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Several Factors Hobbled MNsure From the Start

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"At this stage, I think the website is doing a very good job," Todd-Malmlov told MPR News three weeks after the site went live. "Does that mean it has everything that we ultimately wanted to have? No."

Not only was the depth of the website's problems hidden from public view, MNsure kept running ads on TV and radio encouraging people to enroll in a health plan. Getting enough people to sign up for insurance is crucial for MNsure, not only for its mission but because the agency's funding will eventually be tied to the amount of money consumers pay in premiums.

MNsure has so far enrolled 117,000 people in health insurance. But at that rate, the agency will suffer a budget shortfall by 2015.

And it's unclear how many of those new policy holders have been enrolled by hand. Right now, the system is cobbled together by manual workarounds that are sucking resources at MNsure, county offices, clinics and at insurance companies selling policies on the site.

In the coming weeks, MNsure officials will announce a plan to right the troubled site. Interim CEO Scott Leitz, who replaced Todd-Malmlov, has said making sure people get coverage is his top priority between now and the end of open enrollment in March.

In the meantime, some people continue to sign up on paper.

That's how Fink, executive director of the Nucleus Clinic in Coon Rapids, spent her New Year's Eve, the last day to sign up for a policy that would take effect Jan. 1. She called four people she'd tried and failed to enroll through MNsure's website.

"They all came in and I gave them all coffee and we made copies of the paper applications," she said. "We got them all done and we faxed them in."

MNsure's performance has been disappointing for IT leader Tom Baden.

But there certainly wasn't a lack of commitment among MNsure's staff, he said.

"I watched people work themselves to the bone over weekends, holidays, literally put their lives on hold for this," Baden said. "I admire them for that effort."

This story is part of a reporting partnership between MPR News, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Wed, Mar 12 2014

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