The MNsure board of directors on Wednesday gave its full support to Scott Leitz to run the agency for the future.
Leitz has been serving as interim CEO since mid-December, when former director April Todd-Malmlov resigned over technical problems with the online health insurance exchange.
"Scott's created some positive momentum, and I'd like to remove doubt about the leadership of the organization and remove the 'interim' from his title," MNsure board Chairman Brian Beutner told members.
The board discussed instituting a national search, but decided to put that off. In a unanimous vote, they said Leitz has demonstrated strong leadership.
Leitz arrived at MNsure at a time when problems were at their worst. Consumers were getting stuck mid-process, and call-center volume ran past what the staff could handle.
Wait times topped two hours, and the state began taking thousands of paper applications for those eligible for public programs. Gov. Mark Dayton sent a harsh letter to the chief executive of IBM, a key software provider, who sent 100 workers to the state for triage.
While operations remain far from ideal, nearly 204,000 Minnesotans have now used MNsure to enroll in insurance coverage, including about 50,000 who have purchased private coverage.
Board member Phil Norgaard said Leitz had been "steady in the wind."
"I appreciate your sound leadership and honest answers to questions we asked," he said. "If you're willing to stick around, we'd certainly be happy to have you."
He will continue to have the same compensation as Todd-Malmlov, who earned about $138,000 a year.
Leitz pleaded guilty on April 24 to a DWI and had two other counts dismissed, including careless driving. He was fined $300 and sentenced to 30 days in the workhouse, but 27 days were stayed for a two-year probationary period.
After getting credit for one day in jail, Leitz must serve two more days by Aug. 23, under a structured "sentence-to-work" program. He also was fined $300.
The board was aware of the pending case, which arose out of a traffic stop in downtown Minneapolis last August.
Leitz left the MNsure meeting to catch a plane and wasn't available for comment. He said earlier that the incident was "one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made. It is humiliating and, as with any mistake, I will learn from it and will not repeat it."
Since taking over, Leitz beefed up call-center operations and led an effort to stabilize the system, parts of which still rely on short-term fixes and manual workarounds.
The state has finalized a nine-month, nearly $5 million contract with Deloitte Consulting. Some 18 people already have begun the process of determining what can and can't be fixed within the existing MNsure system.
"We're off and we're running," said Deloitte's Steve Dahl.
Deloitte officials gave a brief presentation to the board and offered a timeline that includes completing work on software in July and providing a two-month window for testing in August and September. The goal would be to launch the revamped system sometime in October, ahead of the Nov. 15 open-enrollment period.
Part of Deloitte's job will be to set the MNsure system on a path of long-term stability. Within the next few months, the consultants are expected to tell the board whether it will take drastic steps or a series of upgrades to accomplish that goal.
Several board members wanted clarification of the process, given the ballooning technical issues of the past six months and a feeling that they hadn't always been in the loop when red flags were raised.
As MNsure officials laid out a "high-level road map" for fixing the system, board member Peter Benner sought assurance that MNsure wasn't in the same boat as Oregon or Maryland, whose exchanges were deemed massive failures.
"We believe we can get there from here?" Benner asked.
MNsure's chief operating officer, Erik Larson, warned of bumps and hitches but offered an affirmative.
"Will Deloitte put us in a much better position? I think the answer is 'Yes,' " Larson said.
Tom Forsythe wanted more details about how the board would be kept up to date on the process, particularly if severe problems are identified. And he urged an open-ended process where all options are on the table.
"There's propensity to keep working and keep fixing the thing you've got," Forsythe said, adding, "It may not be exactly the right answer."