“It was definitely a shared decision,” Todd-Malmlov said.
Jesson said she regularly consulted with Todd-Malmlov and agreed to go live with online enrollment.
By November, the website was crashing regularly, and frustrated customers overwhelmed the state’s call center, waiting as long as two hours to speak to a representative.
“It was a very complex project and there was never enough time,” Dayton said. “I don’t know of anybody who wasn’t operating with good intentions and trying their utmost to make this as good as possible.”
‘We have a problem’
The first red flag emerged in September 2012, just two months after Minnesota hired four companies to build the online exchange.
In a monthly progress report for Human Services, Assistant Commissioner Scott Leitz reported that “schedule status has turned to red because of the slippage and the very tight deadlines.” Leitz is now interim CEO of MNsure.
Five state agencies were involved in the project, and they weren’t always working together. The contractors also were having trouble coordinating efforts, “putting the project at risk,” according to a December 2012 e-mail from MN-IT Chief Information Officer Tom Baden, who was overseeing the vendors’ work.
“Those items need to be addressed within a week or [Houston], we have a problem,” Baden said in his e-mail, sent to Todd-Malmlov and another state official.
E-mails and internal reports show a lack of coordination among various groups throughout 2013. Program managers openly fretted about not catching major problems quickly enough.
In May 2013, the first outside audit was delivered, revealing MNsure was below standard on most of the 135 tasks under review. Only one category earned a passing grade — project cost. At the same time, federal officials found dozens of problems, concluding the state had “underestimated” the scope of the work.
Despite the warnings, Todd-Malmlov was upbeat about the federal review during a June 26 MNsure meeting. “We have frequent reviews with the feds and are receiving feedback that we are on the right track,” she told the board.
By August, the outside auditor found nearly two dozen issues, including design flaws and software compatibility problems, that would make it impossible for some customers to use the website. Important system tests were “no longer feasible” by Oct. 1, making it likely that the website would go live with undetected defects.
While noting glitches were possible, Todd-Malmlov told MNsure board members in September that “red” status indicators were nothing to worry about.
In a recent interview, Todd-Malmlov maintained that she never misled anybody about MNsure’s problems. “We mitigated the things we needed to mitigate,” Todd-Malmlov said. “I always said things are not going to be perfect.”
Jesson was the only MNsure board member who knew the depth of the problems. “I remember talking to MNsure staff at some point in September and saying, ‘You need to make sure other board members know what I know.’ ”
MNsure Board Chairman Brian Beutner said he didn’t know about the audits until January 2014. He said staff members should have shared them with the board when it assumed control over MNsure in August. Still, he says, he’s not sure whether it would have prompted the board to delay the website.
“Are the warnings in there significant? Yes,” Beutner said. “Would we have made a different decision? That is part of the reason why we are demanding much more information now.”