Help Coming for Customers as PreferredOne Pulls Out of MNsure

By | September 19, 2014

Help will be available for consumers as PreferredOne, the largest provider of coverage for the first year of Minnesota’s health insurance exchange, pulls out of the state-run online marketplace, MNsure’s chief executive said.

CEO Scott Leitz told MNsure’s board of directors he’s disappointed in PreferredOne’s announcement that it won’t offer new coverage when open enrollment begins Nov. 15, but he said four other Minnesota-based carriers will continue to do so. That ensures MNsure “will continue to provide a competitive and transparent marketplace,” he said.

MNsure now plans a “targeted outreach effort” for current PreferredOne enrollees to help them pick new plans for 2015, he said.

While state law requires that PreferredOne customers get to keep their current plans, their premiums could be higher next year. And PreferredOne customers who now get tax credits to defray their premium costs will need to switch carriers to keep their subsidies.

PreferredOne grabbed 59 percent of all private-plan enrollees in MNsure’s inaugural year by offering some of the lowest premiums in the country but said that it’s unsustainable. The carrier had about 24,000 individuals enrolled via MNsure as of July, about 53 percent of those enrolled, MNsure spokesman Joe Campbell said. The percentages are different because some customers dropped their coverage during the year when they took jobs with employers that offered insurance or discontinued for other reasons.

There were no fireworks at the meeting over PreferredOne’s abrupt withdrawal. The focus was preparations for the upcoming open enrollment period, which Leitz said will provide a better experience for consumers than last year. The first open enrollment period was marred by serious technical problems compounded by long waits on hold for help, though the system was performing better by the time open enrollment ended.

Leitz, who was brought in as part of a management shake-up amid the turmoil, acknowledged there will still likely be problems this November, a concern shared by board members.

“We know we will be an improved system,” he said. “We know we aren’t going to be a perfect system.”

While inadequate staffing fueled last year’s long waits for phone help, he said, 300 call center workers will be trained and standing by this time.

There was no consumer testing of the system beforehand last year, Leitz said, but extensive tests of how it performs for consumers will be conducted this time. And information will be easier to find on the website this time, he said.

Leitz also said plans will be in place for dealing with any systems that don’t perform as expected this fall.

Still, some things like procedures for processing “life events” such as births and marriages won’t be fully computerized by Nov. 15. They will continue to require manual workarounds, an approach dubbed “semi-automatic” by board member and Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson.

“I, for one, don’t feel comfortable with where we are,” board member Thompson Aderinkomi said, while praising the work of MNsure’s staff to get ready.

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