Minnesota’s legislative auditor said he plans to conduct a thorough, independent review of the troubled launch of Minnesota’s health insurance exchange.
“The evaluation will be a comprehensive, in-depth evaluation of many issues related to the development of the website but also many other issues as well,” Legislative Auditor Nobles told a House-Senate MNsure oversight committee. The exact scope of the inquiry is still being determined, he said.
Republican lawmakers had hoped to use the committe hearing to raise questions about what Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and other administration officials knew about MNsure’s problems in the weeks before its Oct. 1 rollout, and when they knew it. But they said afterward that they’re confident Nobles will do a thorough job.
GOP Sens. Michelle Benson and Sean Nienow and Reps. Tara Mack and Joe Hoppe issued a statement on April 7 saying they wanted current and former Dayton administration and MNsure officials to testify about why they decided to go live with a website “that simply was not and currently is not ready for consumers.” That followed a report by the Star Tribune of Minneapolis on April 6 that MNsure leaders chose to launch the system even though they knew it was loaded with bugs and that MNsure’s executive director at the time, April Todd-Malmlov, warned the governor at a meeting 12 days before the system went live that nobody was certain if it would work.
The Republicans drew an angry response from Dayton, who called their plan a “farce” and accused MNsure’s critics of waging a propaganda campaign to destroy the exchange. His human services commissioner, Lucinda Jesson, canceled her scheduled appearance before the committee. Dayton said the focus now should be on the good things MNsure has accomplished, not the computer glitches and long call center waits that made it difficult for consumer to sign up during its early months.
“The administration just stonewalled the whole oversight committee,” Nienow complained afterward. “That’s not productive. That’s the kind of behavior that got us into this problem in the first place with MNsure.”
Nobles said his comprehensive review will be separate from a narrower audit his office is currently conducting into how the state spent federal money to develop MNsure, which he anticipates will be released in June. The auditor said he’s gotten full cooperation so far from MNsure staffers and board members, as well as other state government officials, but added that his office will use its subpoena authority if necessary to compel testimony and obtain information. He said he expects to complete the broader review around the end of the year.
Benson and Mack called for the Dayton administration to release MNsure’s 2015 premium rates by Oct. 1, rather than that waiting until Nov. 15, the date the next open enrollment period begins.
“Consumers need to know what’s coming at them November 15th,” Benson told reporters afterward.
MNsure’s board chairman, Brian Buetner, and its interim CEO, Scott Leitz, stressed MNsure’s accomplishments to the committee and promised a better experience for consumers this fall.
Leitz said enrollment has risen to more than 181,000 people as the exchange continues to process a backlog of applications that were started before the March 31 deadline. MNsure had already beaten its goal set last fall of 135,000 signups.
Beutner said MNsure has given Minnesota the lowest health insurance premiums in the country, benefiting not just people who bought their policies on the exchange but others, too because of its effects on the entire health care marketplace.
“We’re building better lives for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans,” he said.