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218 area code leads state in MNsure phone calls

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One out of five calls from the public for help with Minnesota’s new online health insurance marketplace is coming from the 218 area code, the program’s director announced Wednesday.

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The sprawling but relatively sparsely populated region, which includes Duluth and all of northern Minnesota, is producing more calls than any other area code in the state, said April Todd-Malmlov, MNsure

executive director.

MNsure was set up to help uninsured and underinsured Minnesotans find health plans as part of the Affordable Care Act. The enrollment period for plans acquired through MNsure began Oct. 1 and continues through March 31, although signup must be completed by Dec. 15 for coverage to begin on Jan. 1.

The second-highest percentage of calls came from both the 612 and 651 area codes in the metro area, at 16 percent each, and the lowest was from the 320 area code in central Minnesota, at 9 percent.

At least part of the reason the plurality of calls come from 218 numbers is that this is where the need is greatest, Todd-Malmlov suggested.

“There are definitely parts of that area code that do have the highest levels of uninsurance in the state,” she said.

Northeastern Minnesota has an uninsurance rate of 11 percent, compared with 9 percent statewide, said Jenny Peterson, executive director of Generations Health Care Initiatives, a nonprofit created to improve access to health care in the region.

The region also has a higher percentage of low-income residents than the state as a whole, Peterson said.

Meanwhile, the Northland has had its first “navigator” certified. Navigators are people hired and trained under funding from the Affordable Care Act to help people work through the intricacies of the MNsure website. Because of training delays and a wait for the state to conduct background checks on the navigators, none was certified locally when enrollment began last week.

The first to be certified in Duluth was listed on Wednesday in MNsure’s “assister list”: Shari Flesness, who is based at CHUM, 102 W. Second St.

Her certification is a good sign, Peterson said, suggesting several additional navigators may soon be certified. Others will be located at such sites as Community Action Duluth, the Duluth Public Library, and the Lake Superior Community Health Center’s health access office.

In the private sector, 32 insurance brokers in St. Louis County have been certified as MNsure assisters. In a clerical quirk, the navigator is listed under “Saint Louis County” on the MNsure assister list, and the brokers are listed under “St. Louis County,” three counties down the list.

The full list is available online at mnsure.org/images/AssisterDirectory.pdf.

John Lundy | Forum News Service

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