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Several Factors Hobbled MNsure From the Start

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Off-The-Shelf And Untested

In 2011, Minnesota counties were helping the Department of Human Services vet software for a massive overhaul of the state's outdated system that calculates someone's eligibility for Medicaid or other public assistance.

County workers process Medical Assistance applications and MNsure was supposed to automate the application system.

Ramsey County Community Human Services director Monty Martin said software developed by IBM Curam stood out among the products the counties analyzed, partly because other states used it and it was "off-the-shelf."

In other words it wouldn't have to be built from scratch, and could be reconfigured to fit Minnesota's specific needs. Eventually, MNsure would serve as a portal for determining eligibility not just for Medicaid, but also for other public assistance programs, such as food and child support. The Curam software would be used to determine eligibility for those programs, too.

Martin said the state and counties were anxious to avoid another HealthMatch, an expensive and failed IT program under the Pawlenty administration that was meant to improve eligibility calculations.

"We in the county had reached an independent conclusion that commercial off-the-shelf products were the direction we would need to go generally in government because development of our own software pieces was much too expensive and hard to maintain," Martin said.

But what the state ultimately licensed from Curam was a product that wasn’t actually tested.

And even though Curam's existing products appeared to work well for other states, one major consulting firm seeking to win the MNsure contract was leery.

Contract Negotiations Stall By the spring of 2012, the state still needed someone to build MNsure and was back at square one in the hiring process.

The state's initial approach of using multiple contractors to build different parts of the site proved too expensive and also took up valuable time. So MNsure officials returned to Virginia-based Maximus and New York-based Deloitte, two companies that had made bids to serve as the project's primary contractor.

Negotiations began with Deloitte, but the firm's price tag was $20 million over the state's budget, said MNsure legal counsel Mike Turpin.

Wed, Mar 12 2014

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