16,000 Minnesotans Without Health Insurance Due to State Error

Updated: 07/04/2014 11:57 AM
Created: 07/03/2014 7:20 AM

About 16,000 Minnesotans have been left without health insurance because of an error at the Department of Human Services that went unnoticed for months. It's just the latest in a series of problems plaguing MNsure, the state's health insurance exchange.

Paul Johnson applied for health insurance through MNsure 192 days ago. He still doesn't have health insurance.

He said he's called the state several times.

"They've said, 'Just gives us some more time, give us some more time, gives us some more time,'" Johnson said. "Anybody who's listened to me on the telephone with these people will know that I'm more than a little frustrated."

Now, Johnson is learning he's one of 16,000 Minnesotans who are missing information on their MNsure applications, but were never told about it.

"It was a serious error on our part. We certainly regret the impact it's had on families," said Chuck Johnson, a DHS deputy commissioner.

Johnson said the DHS system was supposed to automatically generate notices to send to applicants, telling them they needed to provide additional information to get insured. But a person still needed to manually trigger the process of mailing them out. That never happened.

"We just didn't know that they weren't being sent out even though we thought they were being sent out," Chuck Johnson said. "I think that's really the result of not having those controls in place from a project manager perspective."

DHS officials said they'll send out those notices in the next week or two, and later this month, implement changes that will prevent such errors in the future.

Chuck Johnson admitted that losing the confidence of the public is a concern, but also said the system has generated many benefits that shouldn't be overlooked. 

"We've also enrolled 250,000 Minnesotans in health care," Johnson said. "There's been a lot of progress made here. We can't let that be clouded by the fact that there's been some struggles in getting us there along the way."

Paul Johnson isn't interested in success stories.

"I've got some health issue that I need to address, and I'm afraid to go see a doctor because I don't know how it's going to get paid for," Paul Johnson said.

DHS officials said folks like Paul Johnson will be covered retroactively, starting on the date when they first applied for insurance. But that assumes they'll be found eligible for coverage. If they aren't, they'll be stuck with the bills. 

Chuck Johnson said if you're having a problem with your MNsure application, you can contact your county's human services department or the DHS help desk. They'll be able to tell you what information is missing on your application.

Gov. Mark Dayton issued the following statement on Thursday: "I find this magnitude of human error and the delay in detecting it simply unacceptable. I share the frustrations of those people, who were affected by it. I have been assured that those applicants, who are eligible for Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare, will receive retroactive coverage based on when they originally submitted their applications. However, that does not excuse the confusion it caused."

The legislative auditor said MNsure is currently the focus of three different state audits.

Photo: KSTP-TV
In this Sept. 27, 2013 file photo, MNsure contact center representatives specialist Carlos Villanueva, left, and guide Emily Joyce work in one many cubicles at the center in St. Paul, Minn.
Photo: AP/Jim Mone, File

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