MNsure misses mark by 7,000 for health insurance signups


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ST. PAUL, Minnesota — MNsure fell short of its target for signups in its second round of open enrollment, the health insurance exchange announced Wednesday — another setback for the beleaguered agency that officials insist will only result in minor cuts to its budget.

The exchange signed up about 60,000 Minnesota residents in commercial coverage offered by private insurance companies, 7,000 short of a more modest goal it set when MNsure slashed its target for those signups by a third late last year.

Those plans are critical to MNsure's budget because the exchange skims a fee from them to fund its operations.

MNsure officials and members of its board on Wednesday downplayed their final total as a near-miss that was buoyed by a late surge of more than 10,000 registrations. They said the exchange, from top to bottom, was much improved from the clunky website that crashed and frustrated consumers a year ago.

But Republicans portrayed the shortfall as just the latest sign that the exchange can't sustain itself as promised, piling on criticism on the heels of a wide-ranging audit released Tuesday which concluded MNsure's failures outweighed its successes in its first year of operation.

"The news for MNsure is bad and just keeps getting worse," said Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood. "It's financially unsustainable. It's missed every benchmark it has put out."

MNsure has continually fallen short of both its own targets for commercial coverage and more ambitious initial hopes of insuring more than 1 million residents by 2016.

That lackluster enrollment in private plans since MNsure launched in 2013 has forced the state to pick up more of the tab for the exchange. Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed an additional $11.7 million in state money for the exchange, which is supposed to be self-sustaining, because public plan enrollments have far outpaced commercial coverage signups.

That trend continued in its second go-around, as MNsure announced it has enrolled nearly 100,000 Minnesota residents in public programs MinnesotaCare or Medical Assistance since open enrollment began. Unlike private plans, enrollment in those programs is open year-round.

Leitz noted the exit of the marketplace's largest insurer last year, PreferredOne, was a major setback for MNsure in its second year. PreferredOne had cornered nearly 60 percent of the market but, as of late January, just a third of its customers had returned to the exchange to select a new plan.

Still, Leitz said coming up short in commercial plans would require only modest budgetary changes, if any. He said MNsure would not seek any additional funding from the Legislature.

Small numbers of residents will continue to trickle in due to a special enrollment period MNsure extended for those who started but couldn't finish an application in time and others who were shocked by penalties on their 2014 tax filings for being uninsured.

MNsure board chair Brian Beutner said fewer residents are in the market for health insurance due to Minnesota's dropping uninsured rate.

"We enrolled more this year than last year, and we are fishing in shallower waters," he said.

Associated Press writer Brian Bakst contributed.

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