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Column: What happened — and didn’t happen — with MNsure

The first year of MNsure open enrollment is complete, and I think it’s worth noting what hasn’t happened. None of the doomsday predictions made by opponents of health care reform ever came true.

What did happen? For one thing, more than 200,000 Minnesotans used the health insurance exchange to purchase comprehensive, affordable health insurance coverage.

As of April 23, MNsure has enrolled 50,096 Minnesotans in a Qualified Health Plan, 41,403 in MinnesotaCare and 108,675 in Medical Assistance.

To put it in the proper perspective, MNsure officials had hoped 135,000 Minnesotans would sign up for private or government health plans in the first year. We surpassed those expectations and left them in the dust.

Minnesota is part of a national trend. The Affordable Care Act also blew past projections. Despite ongoing — even obsessive — efforts by Republican lawmakers to derail the program, more than 8 million Americans signed up for the ACA.

Numbers like these make the doomsayers look a little foolish in retrospect.

Now even die-hard opponents, like Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers — the fourth-ranking Republican member of the U.S. House, which has taken more than 50 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act — are saying that the ACA and MNsure are here to stay and the debate should shift to making them work better.

I’m in complete agreement. We can’t go back to the days when a person could be denied insurance because of a preexisting condition or low-income families are priced out of comprehensive policies.

When an organization — a company, state or country — embarks on an endeavor of this size, there’s bound to be a severe learning curve. That was true for MNsure — particularly on the IT side.

MNsure’s early problems have been well documented. But we quickly addressed those issues and will continue to look for better ways to operate right until 2015 Open Enrollment begins later this year.

A better website will also help us enroll more small businesses. As of April 16, only 144 employers had enrolled in MNsure, covering just 726 employees. The biggest reason they stayed away from MNsure was that they didn’t have the time to spend on the website trying to sign up online.

This problem isn’t unique to Minnesota. The federal site, www.HealthCare.gov, decided to delay online enrollment for small businesses for one year.

But these are concerns about the process of actually enrolling in MNsure; there can be no denying the benefits of the policy.

MNsure is providing Minnesotans with excellent insurance plans that won’t deny coverage for anyone with preexisting conditions, does not have lifetime limits, include out-of-pocket spending caps and will cover preventive care.

We have the lowest health insurance premiums in the nation, because we created our own health insurance exchange. And federal tax credits available only through MNsure help make health coverage even more affordable for thousands of Minnesotans.

The roll-out wasn’t perfect, but the result will change the lives of thousands of our friends and neighbors for the better, and I promise you that we will continue to make progress heading into the future.

Erik Simonson (DFL) is the Minnesota state representative for district 7B.

Erik Simonson

Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, represents District 7 in the Minnesota Senate. He may be contacted at (651) 296-4188.

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