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New MNsure CEO apologizes, pledges progress on health exchange problems

Scott Leitz said Wednesday that he will work to fix the glitches and to improve transparency at the organization.

“We are committed to improving this process,” Leitz said at a noon press conference. “To those Minnesotans, we apologize for that, but we are committed 100 percent.”
MinnPost photo by James Nord

New MNsure CEO Scott Leitz, apologizing to Minnesotans for all of the health exchange’s difficulties, said Wednesday that he will work to fix the glitches and to improve transparency at the organization.

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Leitz moved over from a leadership role in the state Department of Human Services to replace Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov, who resigned Tuesday.

Leitz and MNsure board Chairman Brian Beutner acknowledged ongoing problems and Minnesotans’ continuing struggles with the MNsure website. They said they would continue working to improve the complicated project, which was built under incredibly tight time constraints.

Among other problems, MNsure has had to re-run roughly 30,000 applications for possible errors. Some people received incorrect tax credit calculations or were not given the right program designation, and the exchange has been unable to process paper applications.

The website also has experienced technical issues and lengthy wait times at the exchange’s call center, some hovering around 60 minutes. Some security issues also have come to light.

“We are committed to improving this process,” Leitz said at a noon press conference. “To those Minnesotans, we apologize for that, but we are committed 100 percent.”

Enrollment extension under discussion

Beutner, responding to questions about whether Minnesotans will be able to secure health coverage by Jan. 1, said MNsure is discussing with the health insurance plans whether to extend the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline.

MinnPost photo James Nord
MNsure board Chairman Brian Beutner said he didn’t ask for Todd-Malmlov’s resignation — nor did he receive a similar request from Dayton.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, a national trade group, announced on Wednesday that the health carriers it represents would extend the deadline for consumers to pay for their coverage to Jan. 10.

Minnesota consumers right now have until Dec. 23 to choose coverage and to pay MNsure. Or they can pay their insurance carrier up to Dec. 31 and expect to have coverage on Jan. 1, according to the health plans.

Those who are enrolling in MinnesotaCare, a public program for low-income working people, don’t have to pay their first month’s premium before Jan. 1 to get coverage.

A spokeswoman for the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, which represents insurers in Minnesota, said it’s unclear if the payment deadline extension would apply in Minnesota. There are ongoing discussions occurring between MNsure and the carriers.

“This is not a unilateral decision by MNsure,” Beutner said at the press conference.

Amid all the problems, Gov. Mark Dayton has criticized the exchange leadership for its handling of those issues. In addition, Todd-Malmlov came under fire for taking a vacation to Costa Rica around Thanksgiving with state Medicaid Director Jim Golden, who also was working on the exchange project.

Beutner said he didn’t ask for Todd-Malmlov’s resignation — nor did he receive a similar request from Dayton. He said he is sad to see her go. Leitz praised Todd-Malmlov, who has run the exchange since its fledgling days at the Department of Commerce.

Todd-Malmlov thanks staff

In an email to MNsure staff Tuesday evening, Todd-Malmlov thanked them for their hard work — exchange employees have been struggling around the clock to get MNsure working correctly — and shared the resignation statement she made to the board.

“It is with an extremely heavy heart that I ask for you to accept my resignation as the Executive Director of MNsure,” Todd-Malmlov told the governing board at a closed Tuesday-night meeting, according to the staff e-mail. “I feel that this action is necessary to protect the welfare and privacy of my family.”

Golden will retain his position at the Department of Human Services, according to an agency spokeswoman. When asked if it was fair that Todd-Malmlov left and Golden will remain, Beutner responded: “It has nothing to do with their relationship.”

Beutner said Todd-Malmlov is no longer employed by MNsure, although the former executive director, once a rising star in state government, offered to stay on in an advisory capacity during Leitz’s interim tenure. Beutner said it’s unclear if that will happen.

Leitz will receive the same $136,000 salary as Todd-Malmlov until a national search produces a new CEO, Beutner said.

He began discussing the position with Leitz earlier this week, and the former assistant commissioner at the Department of Human Services expects to return to his usual job once a replacement is found.

In addition to enhancing transparency with the public and reporters, MNsure also will be getting help from a key vendor. Beutner said IBM volunteered to send about 80 staff members to help fix problems with the exchange.

Leitz also said the state would begin expecting more help from the vendors who designed the exchange’s technical infrastructure. The state has received about $150 million in federal grants to implement MNsure.

Julie Brunner, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, who has known Leitz for some time, praised him through a spokeswoman.

“Leitz is a calm and steady leader who will bring that to his new role,” Brunner said.

Leitz assumed Todd-Malmlov’s chair at a pre-scheduled MNsure board meeting shortly after the press conference.

At the session, the exchange released updated figures showing that nearly 40,000 Minnesotans are in the process of enrolling in insurance as of Dec. 14.

About 11,800 are enrolling in private insurance, with some 27,000 joining public programs. That’s a jump from 24,000 enrollments in progress by Nov. 30.

Todd-Malmlov, in her parting message to staff, encouraged them to keep working for Minnesotans to get affordable health care coverage.

“Many of you will continue to toil in the trenches with significant personal sacrifice for the greater good,” she wrote. “Please persevere.”