MNsure triage as website and call center crash

Thousands of Minnesotans already traumatized by up to 67 percent increases in individual health premiums experienced another shock today. The MNsure state health insurance exchange and help center intermittently crashed at the worst possible time, the start of the new enrollment season on November 1.mnsure-it-sign

News accounts report that a deluge of robocalls apparently flooded MNsure phone lines, but it’s far from clear what’s caused the technical problems that have dredged up bad memories of the disastrous launching of the state health insurance exchange three years ago. The breakdown is under investigation.

The website at the state’s health insurance exchange opened for business at 6 a.m., and MNsure officials said roughly 1,200 signed up for coverage within the first two hours.

But website users started reported crashes starting around 11:30 a.m. By noon, state IT officials issued a statement saying the MNsure website and nearly 70 other state websites had been experiencing intermittent outages.

“Minnesota IT Services is investigating and we will update with further information as it becomes available,” the statement said.

The embarrassing outage adds to the pressure on Gov. Mark Dayton to find a solution for MNsure and an Affordable Care Act that “is no longer affordable to increasing numbers of people.”

After the call center opened at 8 a.m., customers started complaining about waits that exceeded an hour in some cases. In comments to reporters Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton said the state’s IT division had identified the culprit behind the robocalls, with wait times being improved as a result.

“It’s deplorable that somebody or anybody is trying to disrupt this,” Dayton said. “They’ve excluded whatever the source is.”

Unlike the technical horribles that occurred three years ago, the pressure on Minnesotans to get enrolled for a limited number of premiums in certain individual plans probably led to a spike in online traffic that froze the system.

This year, troubles are surfacing on the open day of open enrollment likely because enrollment caps for most insurers in the market have created a strong incentives for shoppers to buy early.

Before the technical issues and robocalls were disclosed, MNsure consumers said the website experience on Tuesday was a mixed bag, with some finding coverage and others hitting error messages and confusion.

“Right at the moment, I would give it a grade F,” said Mary Enger, 59, who lives near the western Minnesota town of Dawson. “I’m extremely frustrated.”

American Experiment recently revealed that recurring technical problems with MNsure’s enrollment software have caused counties to hire 250 new staff this year at a cost of $27 million. After spending $460 million on the overall system to date, the MNsure website was still warning consumers to expect technical problems.

The MNsure website directed users not to use a tablet or smart phone and to clear their browser caches and cookies before signing in. Also to use an “up-to-date recommended browser (Firefox or Google Chrome) on a laptop or desktop.

Be sure you have all of the information needed (see the list on this page) for each person in your household ready and available before you begin your application. You will not be able to make changes or corrections once you submit your application.

Complete the application from start to finish in one sitting. To ensure the best experience, do not Save and Exit and come back later to pick up where you left off.

Please note that it takes 24 hours for your enrollment information to be logged into our system. Before calling our Contact Center with questions about your enrollment, please wait at least 24 hours after submitting your online enrollment.

And that was before today’s crash.

Char Loving of Golden Valley said she spent more than three hours trying to buy coverage through the MNsure website on Tuesday morning, but couldn’t get past error messages. She started calling the MNsure call center at 8 a.m., but couldn’t get through.

The experience has been frustrating, Loving said, especially since the plan she wants to buy has an enrollment cap, so she needs to shop early.

“Not to mention the crazy costs we are all forced to pay right now,” Loving added via e-mail.