MNsure has some careful — but quick — decisions to make.
On Wednesday, the health exchange’s governing board green-lighted spending up to $750,000 for a private vendor to beef up the call center’s capacity.
Also, the board soon will approve hiring another outside vendor to fix the exchange’s ongoing technology problems.
At Wednesday’s session, board members offered some stark observations about their own failings and about which fixes were realistic in the short term and which would help consumers in the years to come.
Looking back, members lamented the lack of clear information they had received during MNsure’s first days. Pete Norgaard said trying to get data about the struggling exchange was like “grasping at water.”
“My inadequacy needs to be expressed as well,” Norgaard said, adding to comments from Board Member Tom Forsythe, who expressed concern with the board’s past handling of MNsure’s operations.
Board Chairman Brian Beutner said he’s disappointed that the exchange appears to have lost its sense of urgency in moving the exchange forward in recent weeks.
When asked if he was concerned that the board’s performance might endanger members’ confirmations at the state Legislature this session, Beutner responded: “No.”
He also credited staff leadership changes and a more experienced board for recent progress. MNsure’s first executive director stepped down in December amid widespread criticism of the health exchange’s operations.
“We push harder. We ask more questions. We make more demands, and we know what to ask for,” Beutner told reporters after the meeting. “I’ll be blunt. Three, four months ago, we wouldn’t know what to ask for.”
The health exchange needs to hire a new project contractor and to decide whether it will follow the guidelines of a critical outside review of the system from last month.
Beutner, noting his frustration, acknowledged the board would have to choose soon how to move forward with the Optum recommendations. He added that a new contractor would help make those decisions.
MNsure Interim CEO Scott Leitz said the exchange wants to use existing budget funds to hire the new vendor. If that proves impossible, Leitz said, Minnesota would go back to the federal government for more money.
The exchange also announced two new deputy positions that would deal with public relations and operations.
The call center contract is with APAC, a Mendota Heights firm that will add 100 staffers over the next month as the major enrollment deadline nears.
So far, about 91,000 people have enrolled — or are enrolling — in either public or private coverage on the exchange.
However, the growth in consumers purchasing private insurance has tapered off. That figure now stands at about 28,600, up less than 1,000 enrollees from the last board meeting in late January.
The low enrollment figures have prompted questions about MNsure’s longer-range financial stability.