Republicans intensified criticism of the state’s fledgling health insurance exchange Monday as Minnesota consumers are one week from the MNsure enrollment deadline to receive health coverage next year.
At a Capitol news conference, Republicans called on DFL Gov. Mark Dayton to provide stronger leadership on the issue.
“Obamacare in Minnesota is Governor Dayton and Democrats’ responsibility and they need to be held accountable,” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.
The success or failure of the insurance exchange could have political consequences locally and nationally, as Republicans hammer on missteps in President Obama’s health care overhaul. Minnesota’s implementation has gone more smoothly than that of other states, but still has been marked by numerous technical glitches, delays and frustrated consumers.
“Governor Dayton has been very clear that the current state of the exchange is unacceptable, which is something he has expressed clearly to the board and to the public,” Dayton spokesman Matt Swenson said. “In the final analysis, tens of thousands of Minnesotans are in the process of getting covered under MNsure, with the lowest health insurance rates in the country.”
Delays aren’t the only criticism being leveled at the agency.
MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov is under fire following revelations that she took a nearly two-week tropical vacation with state Medicaid Director James Golden in late November, even as the insurance marketplace was swamped with problems and only weeks after Golden had been named to his post.
The two have worked closely on the implementation of the new health insurance exchange.
Spokesmen from MNsure and the Minnesota Department of Human Services said there is no conflict of interest in Todd-Malmlov and Golden’s relationship. Todd-Malmlov does not supervise Golden and they work for different agencies, according to a statement.
MNsure spokeswoman Jenni Bowring-McDonough said Golden had no role in the hiring of Todd-Malmlov.
Similarly, the state Department of Human Services downplayed Golden’s involvement in the MNsure rollout.
“While Mr. Golden plays an important role with MNsure regarding public programs, ultimate authority and responsibility resides further up in the organization,” state Department of Human Services officials wrote in a statement. “During his absence there were senior officials deeply involved in the project, including an assistant commissioner, deputy commissioner and commissioner.”
Neither Todd-Malmlov nor Golden could immediately be reached for comment.
According to Star Tribune records, the two live together in St. Paul.
This was not the first vacation time used by Todd-Malmlov and Golden since they began working on the MNsure rollout.
Todd-Malmlov averaged just over four weeks of vacation for each of the last two years, according to Minnesota Management and Budget. Since the beginning of 2012, Golden has taken 6.3 weeks of vacation.
According to Minnesota Management and Budget, Todd-Malmlov’s current salary is $136,680 a year, about $16,000 more than the governor. Golden earns $117,742 a year.
The rollout of MNsure already is emerging as a political issue as Republicans try to weaken Dayton, who has had strong approval ratings through much of his term.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Honour on Monday called for Todd-Malmlov’s resignation.
“I can’t imagine the head of a company being on vacation during a major product rollout,” said Honour, a businessman. “So for the head of MNsure to be on vacation in Costa Rica during the troubled rollout of a government program that affects the lives of almost every Minnesotan is beyond belief.”
Dayton hasn’t defended Todd- Malmlov’s Costa Rican vacation, saying she is responsible for her own vacation decisions.
She was hired by the independent MNsure board, not Dayton.
The chairman of the MNsure board could not immediately be reached for comment.