MNsure is shifting project management to outside vendor

Project management work on the troubled insurance exchange website shifts to an IT company.


Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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After fumbling the job for more than a year, MNsure has hired an experienced IT company to coordinate the complex work needed to finish and repair its troubled health insurance exchange.

Deloitte Consulting is scheduled Wednesday to present its plans for moving the online marketplace forward during MNsure’s board of directors meeting. It isn’t clear how much the contract with Deloitte is worth, but MNsure’s preliminary budget earmarked at least $10 million for technical work this year.

The hiring of an outside company reflects a grudging recognition that MNsure is not capable of managing the project, a concern recently voiced by its independent auditor. The state agency was created to enroll uninsured Minnesotans as part of the Affordable Care Act, but its efforts have been hampered by a troublesome website that has frustrated thousands of would-be enrollees.

MNsure has “compartmentalized” tasks to such a degree that it cannot make sure the most important work is getting done first, leading to lingering website problems and “poor customer satisfaction,” according Software Engineering Services (SES) of Bellevue, Neb.

Overall, MNsure failed to make progress on 15 of 44 outstanding issues, worse than any previous quarter, according to the March 20 report. SES concluded that Minnesota “is unable to effectively manage the project.”

In a written response to the audit, MNsure Interim CEO Scott Leitz said the agency agrees with most of the findings and that MNsure is hiring a new lead vendor to address the concerns. “Although considerable progress has been made in resolving findings raised in your previous reports, we are aware that much work remains to be done,” Leitz wrote.

MNsure officials declined to discuss the audit on Tuesday, saying the agency would address project management issues during Wednesday’s board meeting.

For months, MNsure officials have complained that many of its problems are related to poor performance by the agency’s vendors, particularly the software provided by Curam, a subsidiary of IBM Corp. MNsure officials also have been critical of Maximus Inc., a Reston, Va.-company that was responsible for building the MNsure website and managing the project.

Missed deadlines

Maximus failed to meet a number of important deadlines in late 2012 and early 2013, just a few months after Minnesota hired the company, state records show.

In January 2013, for instance, state officials expressed alarm about the company’s decision to monitor quality control without a test manager.

“I’d list it as critical since they are two months past their promise date, and the impact to quality is evident in the poor quality of their submitted test plan,” a Commerce Department manager said in an e-mail.

MNsure assumed control of the project in February 2013, after state officials became increasingly concerned by the sluggish pace of progress and the huge amount of work needed to meet the Oct. 1 deadline to launch the exchange.

“That is why we finally decided to take over,” said Chuck Johnson, a deputy commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Human Services who was deeply involved in the project. “We needed a plan for the whole project, clear responsibility for who is doing what. And we didn’t feel like we were getting there quickly enough with Maximus. … We lost a couple of months at the beginning of the project where we didn’t make the progress we needed to.”

Maximus officials declined requests for an interview.

“We stand behind the work performed on behalf of MNsure,” Maximus spokesman Blake Travis said in a written statement.

Jim Schowalter, commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget, told the Star Tribune in February that Maximus might not have been the right choice to lead the $155 million project.

“They had certain skill sets. They were bringing those to the table,” said Schowalter, whose agency oversaw MNsure for much of 2013. “What the project needed at that point wasn’t matching what they had.”

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