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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesotans have another way to learn about MnSURE, the state's market place for buying health care coverage with discounts available through the Affordable Care Act.

MnSURE opened a toll-free customer call-in center Tuesday, for those who want to learn more about how the exchange will work.The hotline, 1-855-3-MNSURE, or 1-855-366-7873, is open from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays.

April Todd-Malmlov, said that hundreds of consumers called on the opening day, with the average call lasting about four minutes.

"About one third of thecallers had questions about eligibility for the discounts and tax credits, that will make the plans sold on the exchange a lot more affordable," Todd-Malmlov explained.

"Another third were small business owners asking about how they can buy coverage for their employees through MnSURE, and the remainder were general questions about how it's all going to work."

It's part of a broader public outreach effort by MnSURE to help people understand the benefits of shopping for coverage on the exchange, which opens for enrollment October 1. The subsidies and tax credits are funded through the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.

Billboards, TV and radio and online ads featuring Paul Bunyan and Babe have already started grabbing some attention, and directing people the MnSURE.org website, where far more information is available.

The state expects 300,000 uninsured Minnesotans will be able to purchase coverage on the exchange, and up to one million people who currently buy plans on the individual market will find a more affordable plan using MnSure.

On Friday Sept. 6 the state will reveal the names of the companies offering plans on the exchange, and their cost structures. Most exchanges in the nation expect to offer different tiers of plans, depending on how much individuals can afford in co-pays and deductibles.

All plans sold through MnSURE must meet a minimum set of criteria, known as the essential benefits set. Because of that the plans sold on exchange will not compare pricewise with some of the cut rate plans now available.

While opponents have characterized MnSURE as a health plan, that is not accurate.

"MnSure is not an insurance plan," Todd-Malmlov said.

"It's a way to shop for insurance and to take advantage of the discounts."

People who call the line speak to a live customer service assistant in the call center, in MnSURE's leased office space in St. Paul. The staff included people conversant in English, Somali, Spanish and Hmong.

Customers who speak other languages can be patched into real-time professional interpreters, who can help field their questions.

The call center, and MnSURE, are open to Minnesota residents only. People in all of the surrounding states, including Wisconsin, will shop for coverage using the federal exchange at HealthCare.gov.

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