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Dayton blames tech vendor IBM Curam for many of MNsure’s problems

Problems with the product have seriously hindered Minnesotans’ abilities to purchase health insurance or apply for public health care programs,” the governor wrote.

An excerpt from Gov. Mark Dayton's Dec. 13 letter to IBM CEO Virginia Rometty.

Gov. Mark Dayton has accused one of MNsure’s main technology vendors of misleading the health insurance exchange about the status and reliability of its product — a key system used to determine insurance eligibility.

Problems with the function have plagued MNsure since its launch.

“These errors have forced MNsure staff to spend thousands of hours trying to clean data and make consumers whole,” Dayton wrote in a Dec. 13 letter [PDF] to IBM CEO Virginia Rometty.

“Your product has not delivered promised functionality and has seriously hindered Minnesotans’ abilities to purchase health insurance or apply for public health care programs through MNsure,” the governor wrote. “I request that you immediately deploy whatever people or resources are needed to correct the defects in your product that are preventing Minnesotans from obtaining health insurance through MNsure.”

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Since the letter, Dayton and MNsure officials have had at least one conference call with IBM, and the company has sent at least 80 tech workers to address some of the issues.

IBM response

In a written statement responding to Dayton’s criticisms, IBM spokesperson Mary Welder said: “The majority of concerns with the Curam software that were expressed by Governor Dayton three weeks ago have been addressed. These are not the only issues related  to the performance of the MNSure system.

“IBM is just one of several subcontractors working on this project.  The prime contractor, Maximus, Inc, has overall responsibility for the MNsure system including integration and testing of all the components prior to October 1. IBM continues to work closely with the other suppliers and the State of Minnesota to make MNsure a more positive experience for Minnesota citizens.

“As an example, the percent of suspended applications for coverage decreased by two thirds between mid-December and early January and the system is now handling cases at over a 95% daily success rate.

“To sustain the progress, we are providing on-site services and technical resources beyond the scope of IBM’s contractual responsibilities to assist the State in resolving the remaining issues as quickly as possible. IBM Senior Vice President for Software Solutions, Mike Rhodin, has made this project a priority and has been in regular contact with Governor Dayton and the MNSure leaders. Although our original role on this project was limited, we are bringing the full resources and capabilities of IBM to the State because of the importance of the success of the project.”

‘Some progress’ seen

In public discussions of IBM’s “tech surge” and the string of serious IT glitches that preceded it, Dayton and MNsure officials have used guarded language in describing the fixes.

Earlier this week, MNsure interim CEO Scott Leitz said that the health exchange and IBM were making “some progress” addressing the issues.

At Monday’s MNsure board meeting, Leitz said that the vendor had made significant progress identifying issues with the system.

“While there were challenges and continue to be within the IBM Curam product, we know that throughout the end-to-end system — which isn’t just IBM Curam, it’s other vendors as well — we will want to actually take a much more holistic look at that,” Leitz said.

Human Services Commissioner and MNsure board member Lucinda Jesson, too, asked exchange staff to look at the whole system.

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MNsure’s leadership also has discussed the possibility of considering new firms to continue fixing the exchange. That decision isn’t expected for some time, at least until staffers have done the full system review.

Dayton critical of exchange’s performance

Dayton didn’t hold back in his Dec. 13 letter, which came a few days before former MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov stepped down amid the marketplace’s technical failings. The letter marks the beginnings of Dayton’s harsh criticisms of the exchange, and later that day he called its performance “unacceptable.”

“Your product has made it impossible to provide Minnesotans with any reasonable customer service.” Dayton wrote to IBM’s Rometty.

When IBM Curam sold MNsure on its tool in 2011, Dayton wrote, the company described it as 90 percent complete and off-the-shelf ready. MNsure had stressed the importance of a ready-to-go system in getting the exchange completed under tight time constraints.

Gov. Mark Dayton
MinnPost photo by James NordGov. Mark Dayton

“We now know that the product is still not 90 percent complete in December of 2013, and that your product has significant defects, which have seriously harmed Minnesota consumers,” the governor wrote.

The system, however, was never tested by state officials before buying it, according to a Minnesota Public Radio report.

In addition to calling out IBM Curam for misleading exchange officials about the completeness of its product, Dayton also criticized the company for specific technical failings.

He said those flaws have made it difficult for consumers to use the exchange and have given those that do get through incorrect tax credit and public program eligibility determinations.

These “significant” technical flaws became apparent shortly after MNsure’s Oct. 1launch, according to Dayton.

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List details problems

In an attached list of issues with system [PDF], the exchange said state staffers discovered another verification issue on their own through tracking logs, even though IBM Curam was aware of it. MNsure said the problem was one of the reasons it had to re-run about 30,000 consumer applications.

The verification problems also in part caused call center spikes, delays in invoices and significant difficulties in sending consumer enrollment information electronically to the health carriers, MNSure said. The list describes nearly every widespread problem MNsure has experienced in the last two months as a product of the software.

The litany of concerns also references a “black hole” in the system, where staff can’t find applications.

“Clients submit an application online and potentially even enroll and pay for a plan but we have no record of them in the eligibility system,” according to the letter. “There are over 2,600 of these … and Curam cannot tell us how many are cases or just error messages. They also cannot tell us who they are and they cannot get them out of this black hole.”

Exchange staff also identified a security flaw in which it took 30 minutes to automatically log a user out of the system. That poses significant privacy risks for consumers who do group enrollment events at libraries and public computer labs.

MNsure told the vendor to reduce that time to 10 minutes, and IBM said it complied. But when exchange staff went back to check, it wasn’t fixed.

It’s unclear how many of these problems since have been addressed. MNsure didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Exchange staff said on Monday after a governing board meeting that there are some applications that are “stuck” in the system.

IBM Curam is scheduled to receive at least $3.96 million for its tools.

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Other vendors on the more than $40 million project include Maximus Inc., EngagePoint, Connecture and PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP.