MNSure debacle: Months of warning about disastrous rollout
posted at 8:01 am on April 7, 2014 by Ed Morrissey
Minnesota’s ObamaCare exchange has had a disastrous rollout, managing to right itself enough to garner a few salutary headlines in the last couple of weeks, but at a high cost. The program’s chief executive got forced into resigning, and the legislature wants answers on how taxpayer funds got used to deliver such a broken system. Yesterday, the Star Tribune’s Jeffrey Meitrodt offered an exposé of just how much of a surprise the debacle was to MNSure officials, which was, er, not a surprise at all:
The warning was one of many to surface in a hurried rollout that led to frequent website crashes and ongoing errors that have angered thousands of would-be enrollees, a Star Tribune examination of internal project reports, external audits and hundreds of state government e-mails show.
Managers and auditors said for months that the project was falling woefully behind and that critical system tests came too late or had to be curtailed. Among the Star Tribune’s findings:
• Auditors revealed dozens of major problems that were not fixed before the website was launched, state records show, contradicting public statements from MNsure officials that such issues were being handled promptly. Last July, for instance, auditors noted the MNsure website wouldn’t work with some Internet browsers, an issue that lingered through December.
• MNsure didn’t have plans to address website failures, forcing officials to scramble when the system broke down, state records and e-mails show.
• MNsure board members said they were not told about critical audit findings, and were unaware of meetings during which staff members discussed postponing the launch.
• Minnesota officials, who said the federal government’s Oct. 1 deadline to launch the website was “inflexible,” did not know that online enrollment could be postponed without penalty, an option federal officials disclosed in response to Star Tribune inquiries.
The latter came as a surprise to everyone, including Meitrodt, who describes the reaction in the video on the Strib’s story. No one apparently bothered to ask when Minnesota was required to have its web portal up and running; everyone just assumed the deadline was October 1. That may be true in other states, too, such as Oregon and Hawaii, both of whose web portals did’t work at all by October 1, and Oregon’s still doesn’t work. The federal regulations required states to guarantee that consumers could buy insurance offered on the exchanges, but the transactions themselves could still have been on paper.
That would have saved Minnesota a lot of headaches, as the website’s failures began to mount. At the very least, one would expect the Dayton administration’s team to have researched the actual regulations for which they were complying before determining deadlines. “I should have asked,” one board member told Meitrodt when the reporter informed him of the situation. Isn’t that what Minnesotans paid him to do in the first place?
April Todd-Malmlov got forced out of her position at MNSure late last fall after the failure of the system, and this report gives at least one indication why:
For months last year, Todd-Malmlov had reassured the governor and MNsure board members that no serious obstacles would impede the launch. Dayton said her blunt alarm about the problems plaguing the site “came as a shock” during the Sept. 19 meeting at his residence.
“We didn’t have a Plan B,” Dayton recalled during a recent interview, adding that he “strongly urged them to fix the problems.”
Dayton said he was reassured in the days that followed that MNsure’s website would be “good enough to go,” but he left the final call to Todd-Malmlov, a health care policy specialist who served as MNsure’s executive director.
The red flags started popping up long before this, though — in fact, thirteen months before the rollout. In September 2012, the project leaders knew that the “schedule status had turned to red” because of delivery issues on website components. My May 2013, an outside audit found MNSure meeting standards on one task … out of 135. By August, the same auditor warned that the system was so far behind schedule that major parts of it would not have time for testing by the October 1 rollout.
So what did Todd-Malmlov do? Apparently, she never told the board about these audits … and then took a vacation to the Caribbean in late November while MNSure melted down. Most of the board members contacted by Meitrodt only found out about the outside audits in January, long after Todd-Malmlov got the boot. She maintains that it never occurred to her that the board should have seen the audit results.
That brings us back to the Dayton administration, which found out 1n September about the impending disaster about to unfold in two weeks. Even though they pronounce themselves as shocked now, what action did they take with Todd-Malmlov when they discovered the problems and the deception? That would be nothing. Todd-Malmlov was Dayton’s responsibility, but Dayton did nothing except leave the project in her hands even though she had just blindsided and “shocked” them with her eleventh-hour report on the system’s upcoming failure. It took four more months after that for the board to find out that the auditors had warned her all along of the failures, thanks to the failure of the Dayton administration to take responsibility in the crisis.
That’s the takeaway from the Strib’s in-depth report, for which they had to force the Dayton administration to release its documentation. Dayton needs to answer for this debacle.