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Washington – Members of Congress’ chief investigative committee aggressively questioned MNsure’s interim CEO on Thursday, demanding to know if Minnesota’s health insurance marketplace has rebounded from problems that left it on the brink of collapse last fall.
Citing the findings of a consultant’s report from January that found MNsure’s management in constant “crisis mode,” Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., pressed interim MNsure CEO Scott Leitz for details on the shake-up inside the agency in the wake of a troubled launch.
In its infancy, MNsure’s call center wait times stretched up to an hour and its website blocked residents from buying insurance.
“Have you fired anyone in state government for the bungled launch and the massive loss of taxpayer dollars?” a skeptical Gosar asked. “Or have they just been reassigned like they do here in the federal government?”
While acknowledging the health care exchange’s unpromising start, Leitz told the House Oversight Committee that changes have been made and Minnesota’s exchange is now “stable, secure and successful.”
Leitz was among several representatives of what the committee called “problem-filled state exchanges” who were summoned to testify before the congressional panel.
On Capitol Hill Leitz also faced pointed queries about the $26,000 in bonuses awarded to MNsure managers in the lead-up to the website launch. Under questioning, Leitz said nothing has been done to recoup the payouts.
MNsure officials said this week that they exceeded their goal for the initial open-enrollment period, with nearly 170,000 Minnesotans signed up for insurance coverage. The total topped the 135,000 the agency set as a target last October, before technical glitches waylaid the exchange website and call center.
Leitz came under fire at the outset of Thursday’s hearing, but lawmakers soon turned their focus to the nation’s most troubled health care exchanges, Maryland’s Health Benefit Exchange and Cover Oregon.
The board overseeing Maryland’s exchange voted to scrap its glitch-ridden system. Officials in Oregon are weighing the same option.
Optum report was key
MNsure nearly ended up in the same predicament, Leitz testified. He said the January report commissioned by UnitedHealth Group’s Optum division sparked the turnaround that saved MNsure. The report noted that fixing the site’s technical problems could take more than a year.
Leitz testified that the MNsure exchange will be financially sustainable by 2015, as required by law, and will not seek additional federal funds. The federal government granted MNsure $155 million to build its system, pay staff and operate the agency in its first year.
“We really wanted to know what our challenges [were] so we could begin to address them,” Leitz said. Website problems arose again Monday, leaving about 36,000 Minnesotans who tried to enroll as the midnight March 31 deadline passed.
Leitz told the committee that MNsure is searching for a new lead vendor to work on the larger software problems identified in the January report.
“Though MNsure is on the road to recovery, issues remain,” he said. “We were pleased with the improvements, but we also know there’s a lot of work ahead.”
In response to Leitz’s testimony, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., expressed skepticism about the turnaround.
Bachmann, an ardent opponent of the Affordable Care Act, said that “It is no wonder that Minnesota and other states are having difficulty implementing Obamacare. The state exchanges are by their nature doomed to fail.”
Corey Mitchell is correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau. Twitter: @C_C_Mitchell