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MNsure’s rocky rollout: It’s blame-game time

Interim CEO Scott Leitz
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Interim CEO Scott Leitz and the MNsure governing board weren’t installed when the decision was made, and Leitz said he’s concentrating on moving forward.

MNsure’s bumpy rollout has moved into full blame-game mode.

The vendors are blaming the state. Gov. Mark Dayton and state officials are blaming the private companies who built the faulty technology, and MNsure leaders are quick to point out that they weren’t around when controversial decisions were made.

Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, are saying that the governor needs to take responsibility for the project.

This all comes against the backdrop of two external reviews of MNsure — and today’s legislative oversight committee meeting, where lawmakers want answers.

As does Minnesota's legislative auditor, Jim Nobles, who is launching a wide-ranging investigation.

Here’s an update on who’s blaming whom:

• Gov. Mark Dayton reamed IBM Curam, an IT vendor, for causing many of the exchange’s technology problems in a mid-December letter that came out last week.

“Your product has made it impossible to provide Minnesotans with any reasonable customer service.” Dayton wrote to IBM CEO Virginia Rometty. The governor also criticized the company for representing a product as 90 percent finished in 2011, when it wasn’t even at that level of completion last month.

When pushed about whether the company knew it had misled state officials, IBM, responding in a statement, said it wouldn’t comment on events that occurred before it acquired Curam in late 2011.

• IBM spokeswoman Mary Welder in the statement also shifted some of the blame onto other vendors and attempted to downplay the company’s past role.

Welder described IBM’s role on the project as “limited.” The company has to date been paid $8.8 million out of a $45 million contract to build the entire exchange shared among a handful of vendors.

"IBM is just one of several subcontractors working on this project,” spokeswoman Mary Welder said. “The prime contractor, Maximus Inc., has overall responsibility for the MNsure system including integration and testing of all the components prior to Oct. 1.” 

• But according to Maximus, which got the original contract to build MNsure in July 2012, the state essentially removed the firm from the project last February.

Maximus, in a report to the MNsure Oversight Committee, said that the state took over and moved away from Maximus’ recommended way of building the exchange. The company so far has been paid $4.8 million.

“While MAXIMUS initially played a Project Management role, this was assumed by MNsure in February 2013 with MAXIMUS performing a supporting function,” wrote Leslie Wolfe, Maximus division president of Health Services Central.

Wolfe also offered some veiled criticism of the way MNsure took over the project, which essentially removed all Maximus staff from the build-out.

“MNsure took the work product developed under MAXIMUS’s direction and rather than gathering the remaining requirements from the State stakeholders based on an end-to-end view of the Exchange business processes, MNsure directed that IBM/Curam, Connecture and EngagePoint gather requirements based on their individual functional responsibilities,” Wolfe wrote.

So far, MNsure officials haven’t been able to offer a concrete explanation for why the move was made. April Todd-Malmlov, the former MNsure executive director, stepped down last month and hasn’t been available for comment.

• Interim CEO Scott Leitz and the MNsure governing board weren’t installed when the decision was made, and Leitz said he’s concentrating on moving forward.

“You’re asking the wrong people,” MNsure Board Chairman Brian Beutner told reporters wondering about the change. 

MNsure will be audited as a requirement of state and federal law, with a broader investigation likely because of the technology and contract missteps. An “end-to-end” system review began on Wednesday, as well.

Optum, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, will be performing the review free of charge, Leitz said. The results are expected next week, and Leitz attempted to close the door on past mistakes and look ahead.

“From our perspective, the key thing moving forward is getting some really good recommendations on how we actually do lead this project end-to-end moving forward,” he said. “I can’t speak to past issues but certainly can only speak to what we know and what we’re trying to accomplish moving forward.”

GOP Sen. Michelle Benson, a member of the oversight committee, said she wants to get answers.

“We are really focused on ensuring that we are giving transparent information both to the public and to lawmakers,” Leitz said. “We look forward to giving them the information that they need.”

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Comments (3)

What have we learned

I would suggest scuttling MNSure and using Healthcare.gov
Give up and just say we are past the point of no return it is not worth spending another $100M to get MNSure back on track.

So who are the right people?

“You’re asking the wrong people,” MNsure Board Chairman Brian Beutner told reporters wondering about the change.

"So who are the right people?" Seems like the obvious follow-up question. Or not I guess. Sigh.

Finger-pointing

…is an old and time-honored response to criticism, but it's often not very helpful, and that appears to be the case here. Not being a lawyer, I'm not at all sure of what steps might be necessary, or in what order, but while a grand jury might be overkill – have actual crimes been committed? – there's probably at least *some* mechanism available that could legally require certain officials to testify under oath to a legislative committee about what decisions were made, and by whom.

One name that comes readily to mind (OK, the person comes to mind. The name is one that I cannot usually remember) is April Todd-Malmlov. While fingers are being pointed is, of course, precisely the time to be "unavailable for comment" if self-preservation is your goal, but that self-preservation may not serve the pubic interest. There ought to be a way for the legislature to convene a committee with the authority to subpoena witnesses and take testimony under oath.

It might not serve the current administration well to do so, of course, for a variety of political reasons, including an upcoming election, blah, blah, blah. All those elected officials and their appointees are temporary workers whose employers – the citizens of Minnesota – are entitled to some straight answers. Of course it could turn into a witch-hunt, given the penchant of current Republicans to crucify any and all who aren't ideologically pure by their standards, and few, indeed, are the DFLers who would qualify, but the right-wing tendency toward hyperbole and hostility (shared by the left wing if the culprits are corporate rather than government) ought not to prevent a serious inquiry – this year – into why the rollout was apparently such a garbled mess.