Health beat: Data guy questions MNsure system

  • Article by: HEALTHJEREMY OLSON
  • Updated: December 14, 2013 - 2:00 PM

After Steven Hauser failed to buy health insurance on the MNsure online exchange, the self-employed database administrator did what IT guys do — he meddled around with the website.

Hauser compared MNsure’s site with other state exchanges that were recently hailed by the Pew Charitable Trusts as running “smoothly,” and was surprised that MNsure didn’t use caching and file-compression techniques that others use to speed up performance.

He used a testing service on w3.org in early December and found that MNsure’s site had more errors with HTML and CSS coding than the exchanges maintained by Washington, Rhode Island and Connecticut. (HTML is the coding by which a Web page is structured, and CSS has to do with how that page is visually displayed.)

None of these observations explain the problems some MNsure users have had in enrolling for benefits, Hauser said. But they reveal an inefficient site that can slow down amid heavy traffic, and they might be a “proxy” of bigger problems that Hauser couldn’t see from the outside.

“It’s not totally fatal to have a few errors in HTML or CSS,” said Hauser, who once worked for the state in an IT role. “That’s common. A lot of pages will have a few errors. What I notice is there seems to be a lot more on MNsure.”

MNsure board members are starting to raise similar concerns. While the focus has been on patching shortfalls in the exchange and getting through the first open enrollment, board Chairman Brian Beutner said at some point the board must step back and evaluate whether it chose the right vendor, Maximus, and has a system it can trust long term.

“It’s either, ‘It’s fixed [at some point] and it’s bulletproof,’ ” he said, “or ‘What are our options?’ ”

Hauser said simple upgrades such as compressing files could rescue the current site, and he shared his thoughts with lawmakers. As for signing up, the IT expert is taking a pass on logging on MNsure again and is contacting a paid navigator to help him with enrollment instead.

“The navigator is going to have to use the site,” he said.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744

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