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Several Factors Hobbled MNsure From the Start

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The board became legally responsible for MNsure in August 2013, but started meeting as early as May.

Beutner, however, said the board got scant details about what was going on behind the scenes at MNsure, getting most of their information orally at board meetings from the executive director, April Todd-Malmlov, who is known for being highly intelligent but tight-lipped.

Todd-Malmlov resigned in December amid mounting problems with the site. She did not reply to requests to be interviewed for this story.

Bad information from MNsure led to an embarrassment for the Department of Human Services.

The department told the Office of Legislative Auditor that MNsure's software had fixed a long standing problem with certain eligibility determinations. Weeks later, Commissioner Lucinda Jesson had to acknowledge the problem had not been fixed.

Organizations with a stake in MNsure's success say they had trouble communicating with the agency's top brass, too, and it was often difficult to decipher who was in charge of day-to-day operations aside from Todd-Malmlov.

As the summer of 2013 approached, insurance companies were getting nervous that MNsure was running out of time to test the system. Industry executives wanted to craft contingency plans with MNsure, but their suggestions fell on deaf ears for months.

"Anytime you have to build something this complex and ... this difficult, you test, you test again and then you go back and test again," said Medica's Coleman. "We really ran out of runway. So [insurers] were working with folks at MNsure to ask for contingency planning and unfortunately we didn't get to that point as early as we would've liked to."

Internal emails show insurance companies were also seeking information about documents called 834s - electronic files that provide insurers the information they need to enroll people in their health plans.

"Please, please, please," wrote an official from insurer UCare to MNsure on July 24, 2013, about two months before the site went live. "A sample of a MNsure 834."

The email was signed "Desperately Seeking Data."

Beutner, MNsure's board chairman, said he regrets the agency wasn't more forthcoming.

"I think if I could point to one of the largest failures of MNsure, it's been a communication failure," he said. "It's been managing the expectations of what was actually being built, when it was going to be delivered."

Raising The Alarm Despite all the warning signs, Beutner said he doesn't think anyone suggested delaying the site's launch to ensure it would work properly.

"The federal government didn't give [a delay] as an option," Beutner said. "It was very clear from everybody involved that October 1 was a drop-dead date -- we're going to be up and running," Beutner said.

Even as problems piled up throughout the fall, MNsure's Todd-Malmlov downplayed the issues.

Wed, Mar 12 2014

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