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MNsure officials roll back expectations for Oct. 1 opening

Paul Demko//September 24, 2013

MNsure officials roll back expectations for Oct. 1 opening

Paul Demko//September 24, 2013

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles
Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles

At Tuesday’s gathering of the MNsure Oversight Committee, Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, had a simple question for MNsure officials: “Is it ready?”

The response from MNsure executive director April Todd-Malmlov was not an unequivocal affirmation that the exchange will be ready for business on opening day. “We are planning to go live on Oct. 1,” Todd-Malmlov told legislators, but stressed that they continue to evaluate functionality and data security. “We are assessing that on a day-to-day basis to make sure that we are ready to go on Oct. 1.”

Atkins further queried whether MNsure officials had encountered any “smoking guns” that would suggest the marketplace will not be operational on that date. Todd-Malmlov’s response: “We will not be going live if there is a smoking gun or a risk to security.”

As evidenced by those remarks, MNsure officials are dialing back expectations for what’s going to happen when the health insurance marketplace opens for business. A similar dampening of expectations for the rollout is happening in other states. The head of California’s health insurance exchange, for example, recently stated (albeit jokingly) that he only expects two people sign up for coverage on the first day.

The tempered expectations follow a series of controversies from which MNsure is trying to recover. Exchange officials have received criticism for failing to include groups with ties to African-Americans in its initial round of $4 million in outreach grants. MNsure’s board responded to that dust-up by allocating up to $750,000 in additional grant dollars to make up for the perceived shortcomings.

A data breach that exposed personal data for more than 1,500 insurance brokers has also generated unwanted headlines. That was the primary focus of Tuesday’s oversight committee hearing. Todd-Malmlov stressed that the problem stemmed from human error and didn’t reflect data security shortcomings with MNsure’s information technology system. She also indicated that exchange workers are receiving additional data security training and that the employee who sent out the privileged information no longer works for MNsure.

“If there are things that are found that we should have done differently, that is something that we want to know,” Todd-Malmlov said.

But Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, questioned whether the outreach workers and insurance brokers who will help individuals sign up for coverage, and who are not state workers, will receive adequate training on data privacy prior to the opening of the exchange. She pointed out that much of that training still needs to take place with less than a week left before MNsure opens for business.

“We have a systemic problem and I want to know how that’s solved,” Benson said.

The Office of the Legislative Auditor is conducting an investigation into what led to the data breach. Legislative Auditor James Nobles indicated at the meeting that it should be completed in two to three weeks. But he questioned whether outdated technology (what he referred to as a “dinosaur system”) may have enabled the error.

“Let me remind you that the dinosaurs are not extinct,” Nobles said. “They are used on a daily basis.”

The meeting turned testy towards its close. Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, expressed anger that 40 questions he submitted to MNsure officials have not yet been answered. He suggested that they should go through each of the questions at the meeting.

“If they don’t have an answer, they can tell us that,” Nienow said. “This is what we are supposed to do, and hopefully we do it in public.”

But Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, who chaired the meeting, indicated that they’d already agreed to end the meeting at 11:30 and that members had other obligations. “We’re simply not going to be able to set aside the time to answer all of your questions,” Lourey said.

No further meetings of the legislative oversight committee have been scheduled.

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