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Few quick fixes for MNsure problems, Optum report finds

The report says it would be difficult to fix many of the glitches before the end of March and that manual workarounds would have to continue.

MNsure continues to be plagued by technical issues.

Optum’s “end-to-end” review of MNsure concludes that there are few quick fixes to many of the stubborn technical issues plaguing the exchange.

That finding will translate into continued problems for the exchange and for consumers.

The report from a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group — released Wednesday — said that it  would be difficult to fix many of the glitches before the end of March and that manual workarounds would have to continue.

“[W]e are able to conclude that, while MNsure will fall short of achieving its original enrollment goals and consumer satisfaction levels, continuous improvements can be made in both the short-term and long-term,” according to the review.

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The review, conducted for free, reads a bit like a sales pitch for how Optum could fix the beleaguered exchange.

A MNsure spokesman confirmed the state would be looking for an outside firm to come in and rehab the marketplace. He clarified, however, that the state would bid the process out and that it’s not guaranteed to go to Optum.

The review highlights known issues with the exchange’s technology and call center, which include spotty service and wait times that hover around the hour mark.

It divides potential fixes into multiple segments: solutions that can be completed before 2014 open enrollment ends in March and preparations for the next periods in 2015 and 2016.

“The only option available to complete the 2014 enrollment period through [the first] quarter is to continue utilizing the existing system,” according to the review. “Some improvements can be implemented during this time. However, the majority of attention must be focused on interim actions and manual efforts required to meet enrollment targets.”

The review also notes that that a “large gap exists between required functionality and what has been delivered,” including key features for small businesses, navigators and brokers. It also noted that the development schedules “take precedence over quality” and called out inadequate testing of the marketplace.

Looking forward, Optum offered three scenarios to fix the exchange’s technology before consumers begin enrolling for 2015. Among those suggestions were to work within the existing technology, which could take up to two years to complete, or to start over.

“Existing Asset may need to be written off — sunk costs,” according to the report, which also mentioned the “possible introduction of new vendors.”

The state currently holds a roughly $45 million contract with four vendors to build the less-than-functional exchange. MNsure significantly decreased the role of its main vendor in February 2013 and took over leading the exchange build-out.

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All of Optum’s solutions include spending more money and hiring more people to work on the exchange. But that could be tricky because enrollment projects show the exchange may lose money beginning in 2015.

If current enrollment stays on track for 2015, the exchange could have to cut $2.5 million from its budget, according to MNsure projections.

At a legislative hearing earlier this month, Board Chairman Brian Beutner said he didn’t want to come back to the state Legislature for additional funding.

The review will be discussed at Wednesday’s MNsure board meeting.