NEW ULM - The March 31 deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is approaching.
For those who haven't yet signed up for insurance, New Ulm Medical Center Director of Operations Steve Schneider said there is still time. And for those who have been scared off by reports of long delays and computer crashes in the MNsure online signup, Schneider offers assurance that the process has been greatly improved.
"Because of the fact that MNsure got off to such a rough start, I think there is a perception that it's not worth their time to try it, that it's too difficult, that it takes too much time."
Staff photo by Kevin Sweeney
Four of the application counselors at New Ulm Medical Center pose with a computer showing the state’s MNsure web page. The process of signing up with MNsure for health insurance has become much smoother and easier, they say. From left are Amanda Witt, LuAnn Reding, Marveen Drill and Angie Wendinger.
But Schneider said a lot of those issues have been worked out.
"The last information I had was that if you call the contact center for help, their response time is less than 60 seconds," Schneider said.
MNsure has signed up over 120,000 individuals, according to MNsure, putting it within striking distance of reaching its goal of 135,000 signed up by March 31. It is enrolling 1,000 Minnesotans every day.
MNsure has enrolled 33,722 in a qualified health plan, 23,950 in MinnesotaCare and 62,982 in Medical Assistance.
Schneider pointed out the importance of signing up for health insurance, whether through MNsure or an outside agency. March 31 is the last date to sign up for health insurance and avoid a tax penalty for being uninsured.
But more importantly, said Schneider, signing up for health insurance will give previously uninsured people the advantages of health care coverage. People who have insurance are more likely to get treatment for minor illnesses before they become serious illnesses, and they have more access to the checkups and tests that help them avoid illnesses.
"And if there is a catastrophic illness or injury, they know their treatment is covered, without having to go into bankruptcy," Schneider said.
New Ulm Medical Center has half a dozen certified application counselors in its business services office to help people with the enrollment process. People can make appointments, and the counselors will help them sign up online.
The average signup takes about 45 minutes to an hour, a great improvement over the long waits, sometimes of up to three hours, when MNsure first started up.
"One time I had to send (the applicant) home because the state's computer crashed for the day," said Marveen Drill.
Another reason to sign up before the deadline is that after March 31, people will be ineligible to sign up for MNsure programs before the next enrollment period, which starts Nov. 15, 2014. And coverage for those who sign up then won't start until January 2015.
There are some exceptions to that rule. People who qualify for MinnesotaCare or Medical Assistance can sign up at any time. NUMC's counselors know the income guidelines for who can qualify for MinnesotaCare or Medical Assistance, and will be glad to help.
They can also help applicants compare plans and select one that is right for them. Schneider pointed out that not all available plans include New Ulm Medical Center in their network. Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Preferred One plans do include NUMC.
More than 60 families have been helped at NUMC, and they encourage people to check with their local insurance brokers as well for assistance.
For more information on signing up for health insurance, or to make an appointment with an application counselor, call 507-217-5767 (toll free: 1-800-795-1211, ext. 75756).