- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - The state’s health insurance exchange finished the year with roughly half its target for private plan sign-ups, but MNsure officials said Monday they were still on track to meet that critical goal.

With the first big enrollment deadline behind them, MNsure officials announced they had signed up about 31,000 Minnesotans in commercial plans for coverage that took effect Jan. 1. The exchange’s budget currently calls for 67,000 such plans for this year, and officials have declined to say how many sign-ups they may have needed by the Dec. 31 deadline to hit that mark.

MNsure spokesman Joe Campbell said he also expects at least 5,000 more plans to roll in later this week through automatic renewals from 2014 MNsure customers who didn’t choose a different plan.

With open enrollment continuing through Feb. 15, Campbell said the exchange was in “a good place to be right now.” It netted about 40 percent of its customers last year during the last month of open enrollment, he said.

MNsure CEO Scott Leitz has repeatedly stressed that a far smoother rollout in year two has resulted in more sign-ups compared to last year. On top of the private plan enrollments, nearly 40,000 Minnesotans have signed up for public health care programs such as Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare since enrollment began Nov. 15.

“MNsure has made tremendous strides as an organization, resulting in a vastly improved consumer experience - but open enrollment continues, as does our round-the-clock work to make enrollment easier for Minnesotans,” Leitz said in a statement.

Some industry experts have previously expressed concern that the exchange wasn’t signing up residents in commercial plans fast enough to meet its goal - a target MNsure cut by a third in December. Those sign-ups are critical to funding MNsure’s budget because the exchange funds its operations by skimming a fee off of monthly premiums.

Minnesotans have until Feb. 15 to get coverage to avoid the penalties in President Barack Obama’s health law.

Eileen Smith, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, agreed there may be a spike of last-minute sign-ups.

“Human nature is you wait until the very end, and we did see that last year,” she said.

But, Smith asked: Will the final deadline push enrollment up high enough to keep MNsure’s budget on course?

“I don’t know. There’s a long way to go,” she said.

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