Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Navigators provide guide to MNsure

12navigators JMS0031.jpg
Family advocacy specialist Larry More talks about helping people navigate the MNsure website on Wednesday at Three Rivers Community Action Inc. in Rochester. "We're here to provide information to them about their options," said More.

Rochester residents looking for help signing up on the state's health insurance exchange, MNsure, have only two navigators to chose from to help them.

Larry More is one of them. A family advocacy specialist with Three Rivers Community Action, More completed the training and background check required to become a MNsure navigator. While people can go to insurance brokers to seek advice on the available plans, More's role is slightly different. He doesn't recommend any particular plans. Rather, he is available to walk people through the enrollment process and show them their options.

"We are here to provide the service of giving them information about services, what their best options are and how to get on the website and make their own choices," he said.

Residents have until Dec. 23 to sign up for coverage that starts Jan. 1. But as the deadline nears, More already has faced some major challenges. He had to cut his first public assistance event at the Rochester Public Library short because the MNsure website wasn't working properly. He said he also was put on hold for an hour when he tried to call the navigator assistance hotline.

The people turning to More for help mostly are struggling to use MNsure's website.


"Either they can't get in to create an account or once they get an account, they can't get back in or they don't know how to answer the questions," More said.

MNsure spokeswoman Jenni Bowring-McDonough said efforts are underway to get more navigators and other assisters set up in Rochester. So far, more than 300 organizations statewide have become navigators or registered to become one.

Also in advance of the Dec. 23 deadline, staffing at MNsure's contact center has been doubled, and additional capacity is being added. The website's operating hours have been expanded from 6 a.m. to midnight Monday through Sunday. While wait times had climbed to an hour for callers to the customer call center, Bowring-McDonough said the extra staff is aimed at bringing that down.

"Certainly there have been some hiccups, and there will continue to be some, but we are actively watching and addressing them the moment they are brought to our attention," she said.

Still, some lawmakers are frustrated at what they see as a lack of assistance available for people in Rochester. House Health and Human Services Policy Committee Chairwoman Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said it is hard to understand why there are only two navigators in the city more than two months after the MNsure website launched.

"It is disappointing, and we are well into the process here and deadlines are approaching, and so I personally am kind of wondering why we are only doing this now so late in the game. But late is better than never," Liebling said.

Earlier this month, MNsure announced $833,000 in grants had been awarded to organizations to help with outreach to hard-to-reach and underserved populations. The only organization that specifically mentions outreach in Rochester to receive an award was the Stairstep Foundation. The nonprofit received $100,000 to reach out to African-Americans via churches in the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester and St. Cloud. A previous round of grants awarded funding to Three Rivers Community Action and Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota to do outreach work in Rochester.

Failing to receive funding was a proposal put forward by the United Way of Olmsted County and a dozen other nonprofits. It was the coalition's second attempt to get funding.


Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said she was shocked the United Way proposal did not get funding. She said she has contacted MNsure officials to voice concern that not enough funding is being set aside to help Olmsted County residents.

"I am concerned that people in Rochester are not going to get the services that they need or be adequately represented here," Nelson said.

Bowring-McDonough said MNsure is working with United Way and the other organizations to encourage them to become navigators or certified application counselors even though they didn't get a grant.

But United Way Senior Vice President of Community Impact April Sutor said it would be difficult to allocate staff to help with MNsure without getting additional state dollars.

"That means that we would have to divert staff and all of our staff are already doing things," she said. "The grant was to help with that capacity to be able to work with lots of people from the community."

One organization that was part of the United Way's proposal has opted to become a part of the navigator program. Zumbro Valley Mental Health Center so far has one staff person who is a MNsure navigator and hopes to have two more soon, according to Sean Rice, the center's spokesman.

The center's navigator is available to help from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Thursdays. While navigators are paid $25 for every individual who signs up on MNsure, Rice said that doesn't come close to covering the staff costs. Generally, he said it takes more than an hour to sign a person up on the exchange. That is why the organization is only able to offer two hours of assistance per week at this time.

"Had we been able to receive the grant, we'd have been able to expand those hours," he said. "This is what we were able to carve out."

What To Read Next
Get Local