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As key MNsure deadline nears, Gov. Dayton calls continuing problems ‘unacceptable’

He criticized the performance of both the seven-member board that oversees the health exchange and the senior staff administering the program.

"I think we are past the point where MNsure's problems are acceptable," Dayton told reporters at a Capitol news conference.
MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach

Gov. Mark Dayton, leveling his harshest criticisms yet, says recent issues with the state-run health insurance exchange are “unacceptable” and have him closely watching the program’s top leadership.

The Democratic governor on Thursday called out the performance of both the seven-member board that oversees MNsure and the senior staff administering the program over continuing glitches that have prevented some people from enrolling for coverage.

“I think we are past the point where MNsure’s problems are acceptable,” Dayton told reporters at a Capitol news conference. “That is only the senior staff’s responsibility of MNsure and ultimately the board’s responsibility, and we are making sure they are well aware.”

According to the latest round of numbers released by MNsure, 71,570 people have completed applications for coverage under the health care exchange, but only about a third of those people are in the process of enrolling.

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The state has just three weeks until Jan. 1, when people who signed up for insurance under the exchange expect their coverage to kick in. There’s even less time until the Dec. 23 deadline for Minnesotans to sign up to get coverage.

There also have been numerous complaints about hour-long wait times to reach staff at the call center, which is designed to help the public through the process.

Officials anticipate a surge of enrollment traffic on the exchange’s website just before the deadline, but the bigger issue for insurance companies is whether they can process applications and payments in time for coverage to start on Jan. 1.

Dayton said he’s held conference calls with exchange officials several times a week to discuss issues, adding that the coming days are “critical” in demonstrating how well they are doing their job.

“The next week to 10 days will be critical in both in determining the functioning and operation [of the exchange] given the timetable, but also the capability of the senior staff and the board to manage the organization through this challenging time,” Dayton said.

These problems were magnified by a recent report at that revealed the exchange’s executive director, April Todd-Malmlov, went on a “tropical” vacation to Costa Rica  just before the Thanksgiving holiday. The news came to light when a MNsure customer tried emailing Todd-Malmlov after struggling to sign up for coverage.

Dayton wouldn’t say whether Todd-Malmlov should have taken a vacation during that time. “I think that’s a question for the executive director and the board,” he said.

Calls to Todd-Malmlov were not immediately returned.

MNsure Board chairman Brian Beutner said he agrees with Dayton that there are key issues that need to be resolved in the next week.

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“As with any start up, we will continue to see new issues come up and the MNsure team is working around the clock to resolve the issues as they come up,” Beutner said in a statement provided to MinnPost. “Actions like expanding the contact center and working with the carriers to resolve data transfer issues will improve the consumer experience, and make it easier for consumers to purchase affordable, comprehensive healthcare insurance through MNsure.”