Get help with MNsure sign-up
Signing up for health care coverage isn't as simple as it used to be when you could walk into the Becker County Human Services lobby and fill out a paper application form.
Signing up for health care coverage isn’t as simple as it used to be when you could walk into the Becker County Human Services lobby and fill out a paper application form.
Now, with a few exceptions, applications need to go through the state’s MNsure website. But county workers will still help you.
At the end of the application process, you’ll know whether you qualify for a subsidy to help pay for health insurance, - a lot of people do - or whether you qualify for free coverage under the state’s Medical Assistance program, which is Minnesota’s version of Medicaid. That has been expanded to cover a lot more people, too.
“If someone comes in and wants a paper application (for medical assistance in general) we don’t have that anymore, we can’t do that anymore. It’s not like it used to be,” said Jill Martin, one of four MNsure “navigators” at Becker County Human Services.
Now the application process is done through the MNsure website, which can be temperamental. Some people get “stuck” by technological glitches while trying to fill out the online application and there they sit until someone on the MNsure help line can perhaps save them over the phone.
If you call, plan on possible long wait times. The MNsure help line (855-366-7873) sometimes fields 1,600 calls per hour and doesn’t have the staff to handle that volume. However, when a reporter called at 11 a.m. Friday, he got right through.
Wait times are said to be lowest around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. on weekdays.
So if you need health coverage, it’s smart to enlist the aid of a MNsure navigator, who can help you through the application process, but is not supposed to provide advice on the best option for you.
Or better yet, go to a MNsure insurance broker, who is licensed to sell health insurance and can advise you on the best plan for your situation.
The first step if you want to use a navigator at Becker County Human Services is to make an appointment at 218-847-5628.
They’ll tell you what information to bring along, such as Social Security numbers for family members and your employer’s tax identification number.
Appointments are scheduled in two-hour blocks, because sometimes it takes that long, but usually it takes 45 minutes to an hour to go through the online application process, Martin said.
“The MNsure website is very unforgiving,” Martin said. “It is best for them to come in and get help, have someone work with them through the application process. Even we as navigators, who have done hundreds of these, we still find ourselves calling and asking ‘how do we handle this situation?’”
That’s because every family’s situation is different. Suppose a couple is divorced and one has physical custody but the other is paying for the insurance – who should apply through MNsure?
Or when very young people who don’t have a credit history apply, it can cause problems, said Sarah Niemi, another navigator at Becker County Human Services.
That’s because the MNsure website interfaces with the IRS and other agencies through a federal data hub (that’s part of the reason it can be so clunky) and when there is no credit data on the applicants, it causes problems.
“Then we go through with paper applications,” Niemi said.
But though a paper application process is available for MNsure, the website is almost always the best route to take, Martin said.
“It’s iterative,” she said, meaning that different answers open doors to new questions in a system that builds on itself. The paper application process obviously doesn’t have that benefit.
The navigators at Becker County Human Services helped 350 to 400 people work through the MNsure application process last year, and learned a lot of tricks along the way.
For instance, don’t give the computer more information than it asks for. When middle names are not required, don’t use them. If an error message pops up, rework the answer in a slightly different way and resubmit.
“We want to provide the best service for our clients we can, we want to make sure we do have the right answers,” said Christy Ramsey, administrative services manager and one of the navigators.
The MNsure website is only in its second year and is constantly being improved.
“Things come up repeatedly and MNsure changes it,” Martin said. “So it’s constantly changing and we have to be on top of it all the time. We just have to make sure we keep calling our numbers.”
Those help numbers include MNsure, the state Department of Human Services and Becker County financial workers.
Becker County Human Services navigators have helped 34 people so far this month, said Ramsey.
Only Martin spends the bulk of her time on MNsure applications, the other three help out as they can between other duties.
“Once you enter an initial application (on the MNsure website) often it’s difficult to go back and fix mistakes,” Ramsey said. “We want to make sure the information is correct so there is not the risk of a tax penalty later on.”
Those who do not have health insurance are penalized at federal income tax time, and those penalties increase rapidly each year.
“It’s important that you get help if you have any questions,” Ramsey said.
Other opportunities for sign-up also exist: From 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday at M State in Detroit Lakes, a computer lab has been reserved and navigators will be on hand to help students and members of the public sign up through the MNsure website.
You can also buy health insurance without going through the MNsure website, but you’ll lose out on any subsidy you would have received to help pay for that insurance, and those subsidies extend well into middle-class territory.
On the plus side, you’ll avoid any tax penalties for not having health insurance.
The MNsure open enrollment deadline is now Feb. 14 for insurance coverage for 2015, but Becker County Human Services workers take MNsure applications year-round for the Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare programs, and for those whose life changes (divorce, etc.) qualify them to apply after the deadline.