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Plenty of health insurance policies remain for sale

ST. PAUL—Individual health insurance policies have been hot sellers this week, but Gov. Mark Dayton says the allotment is nowhere near sold out.

Insurance companies are limiting the number of new policies they sell this year to 152,000, and Dayton said on Friday, Nov. 4, that limits are not being approached. However, he offered no estimate about how long it would be before any of the three major health plans would reach their caps.

When those caps are reached, insurance companies stop selling their policies and they disappear from the MNsure state health insurance sales website.

MNsure reports that it has sold more than 13,000 policies since they went up for sale for 2017 on Tuesday. No major problems have been reported since MNsure's telephone system was attacked by tens of thousands of calls from an automated calling system on Tuesday and about 70 state websites, including, failed for a half hour that same day.

During the telephone attack on Tuesday, people waited on phones an average of half an hour, if they even could get in. MNsure reported on Friday that wait times had dropped to 42 seconds.

Besides the state site, individual insurance policies may be bought from brokers.

MNsure has increased the time operators will be available this weekend, opening lines 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The website will be available 24 hours a day.

"I think MNsure is standing up well," Dayton said, considering its rough start on Tuesday.

Insurance companies limited how many policies they would sell after Blue Cross Blue Shield dropped its regular policies. It still offers a health maintenance organization policy in all but five counties, but one that is more expensive, carries much higher deductibles and may not allow a policy holder to keep his or her doctor.

In order to get one of the more desirable policies, Dayton and others have urged Minnesotans to apply for insurance early if they do not have coverage through their employers or a government program

However, Minnesotans will not be told how many policies still are available. Dayton's Commerce Department will not say how close any company is to its cap, citing two state laws that keep that information secret.

Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said he will gather information twice a week about how many policies each company has sold, and notify the state-run MNsure insurance sales operation. Once an insurer reaches its statewide cap, MNsure would have two days to remove the policy from, thus ending sales of the company's policies.

Also, Dayton said that he hopes legislative staff members and his aides can reach an agreement Monday about how to help Minnesotans who face individual health insurance premium spikes of 50 to 67 percent for next year's policies. While Democratic and Republican legislative leaders agree the state needs to help reduce costs, they have not reached a deal that would allow lawmakers to meet in special session to fix the problem soon after Tuesday's election.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.