- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota’s health insurance exchange pushed back Monday’s deadline to enroll in coverage for the new year, giving consumers until Saturday to sign up.

MNsure officials said moving the deadline to Dec. 20 was not due to any website issues or problems handling a surge of traffic from last-minute shoppers. Rather, the exchange capitalized on some health insurance companies’ decision over the weekend to extend their own enrollment deadlines to Dec. 31 for plans to start Jan. 1.

“This ensures that the lowest cost plans will be available to consumers longer and that people don’t leave any money on the table,” MNsure CEO Scott Leitz said.

The new deadline is at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. Leitz wouldn’t rule out any further extensions.

By Friday, MNsure had signed up or renewed more than 30,000 Minnesota residents for health insurance since Nov. 15. That includes nearly 13,000 in private health plans - more than triple its sign-ups in the first two months of enrollment last year.

The exchange prepared for a rush of consumers over the weekend by urging people in Minnesota to enroll as soon as possible and increasing hours at call centers to troubleshoot and answer questions.

Those call centers were handling as many as 30 calls a minute on Monday, Leitz said. Callers’ average wait time ballooned to 20 minutes - up from five minutes - after enrollment opened Nov. 15. Some users have reported waiting an hour or more for help on a day that MNsure expected to field more than 20,000 calls.

“MNsure, and interest in it, is at a historic high,” Leitz said.

Leitz stressed that MNsure’s website remains stable. That’s a sharp contrast from this time last year, when the system was plagued by technological errors that frustrated consumers and delayed the site’s launch by several hours.

“What a difference a year makes,” MNsure board chair Brian Beutner said.

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