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Open enrollment starts today for anyone looking to get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act's individual market. But this process is going to look very different for people in states that have their own exchanges versus states where residents are sent to the federal HealthCare.gov marketplace. Mark Zdechlik for Minnesota Public Radio reports.
MARK ZDECHLIK, BYLINE: Minnesota's exchange is called MNsure. As President Trump bashes the Affordable Care Act and slashes open enrollment funding for the federal HealthCare.gov exchange, MNsure is enthusiastically promoting the ACA, just as it did under President Obama.
ALLISON O'TOOLE: We're in a very different position than the federal government.
ZDECHLIK: That's MNsure CEO Allison O'Toole.
O'TOOLE: I see a lot of the actions coming out of Washington designed to destabilize the market and to hinder enrollment. I have the exact opposite goal in Minnesota.
ZDECHLIK: So as the Trump administration cuts HealthCare.gov advertising by 90 percent and does away with TV ads, Minnesota is promoting open enrollment as much as it can, and MNsure is running TV ads like this.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We're the only place whose sole reason is to help all Minnesotans find the right plan they can afford.
ZDECHLIK: MNsure is also planning a big social media push - Twitter, Facebook. They want to reach everybody from millennials to older Minnesotans. MNsure is also spending millions to help other organizations enroll Minnesotans in individual market plans. In the HealthCare.gov states, feds slashed much of the funding for what are called navigators. But St. Paul-based Portico Healthnet got a half-million dollars from MNsure to help people sign up. Meghan Kimmel runs the nonprofit.
MEGHAN KIMMEL: Portico Healthnet was able to staff up, so we have more navigators on staff now to prepare ourselves to meet the needs of the open enrollment demand. We are anywhere that we can be where we can talk with people about access to coverage.
ZDECHLIK: About a thousand miles due south of St. Paul, Ginni Tran says she helps a lot of people who work in the seafood industry get health insurance in southern Mississippi.
GINNI TRAN: So shrimper - harvesting oysters, crabs...
ZDECHLIK: Tran works for Mercy Housing and Human Development in Gulfport. Unlike Minnesota, Mississippi does not have its own exchange, so people there sign up and qualify for tax credits through the federal HealthCare.gov site. And under President Trump, it's an altogether different proposition than it was under President Obama.
TRAN: We're still enrolling, but we're not aggressively outreaching and educating.
ZDECHLIK: ...Because, Tran says, they just don't have enough money anymore. Trump administration cuts translated to a 70 percent funding decrease for Mercy's open enrollment efforts.
TRAN: We were actually going to make another of our employee, our co-worker, to become certified, but with the cutback, we won't be able do that.
ZDECHLIK: And the Trump administration slashed HealthCare.gov's open enrollment period from three months to a month and a half. In contrast, Minnesota's open enrollment period goes for 2 1/2 months. Most other state exchanges also have longer open enrollment periods than does HealthCare.gov. For NPR News, I'm Mark Zdechlik in St. Paul.
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