- Associated Press - Monday, November 3, 2014

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota counties are gearing up to begin processing thousands of paper applications for the state’s online health insurance exchange next month.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services is shifting its backlog of unprocessed paper applications to counties starting Nov. 17, as well as any new paper applications after that date. Local officials say the move will create even more work for counties that have already added additional health care duties as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

The state was awarded $155 million in federal grants for the creation of MNsure, an online health insurance exchange, the St. Cloud Times (http://on.sctimes.com/10eUyx9 ) reported. Although the new system encourages Minnesota residents to apply online, officials are legally required to provide paper applications as well.

A plethora of technical issues have driven many people to submit paper applications, according to Janet Goligowski, gateway services director in Stearns County’s human services department.

“Presumably, the concept is that the online system will be so easy and so intuitive and user friendly that no one would really think to go to paper applications, which are very hefty and very long,” she said.

But the exchange has become so backlogged that it’s unable to quickly process applications, so “people just really naturally gravitated toward the paper applications,” Goligowski said.

The state has ordered counties to take care of the paper applications so it can focus on processing life event changes that affect eligibility, like the birth of a child. But those changes are less time-consuming than processing new applications, according to Goligowski.

“It’s not something that counties said, ‘Hey, we have time to do this,’” she said.

About 4,600 paper applications await processing statewide, according to the state Department of Human Services. Counties have traditionally been responsible for the paper applications of health care programs, DHS said.

Open enrollment for MNsure begins on Nov. 15.

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Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com

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