Last month, while Minnesota's new health insurance exchange site was scrambling to fix glitches and under fire from critics, its director was on vacation.
MNsure director April Todd-Malmlov took a two-week vacation to Costa Rica around Thanksgiving. Gov. Mark Dayton defended her right to take a pre-scheduled trip, but critics of the fledgling health insurance exchange pounced.
The conservative group Watchdog.org put out a press release Thursday, condemning her absence while "thousands of frustrated Minnesotans were notified about glitches and errors in their applications on the state insurance exchange."
Asked about the trip, the governor said Todd-Malmlov reports to the MNsure board, not the governor, so he has little control over her vacation plans.
"I know that the executive director worked extraordinarily hard for months now, probably all of last year and my understanding was this was a long-planned vacation where financial commitments were made," Dayton said. "I don't know enough of the details, but it was obviously a critical time for MNsure and it is ultimately her responsibility."
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, blasted what he saw as Dayton's efforts to distance himself from MNsure.
"Governor Dayton is ObamaCare and MNsure's biggest advocate," Daudt said in a statement. "It was Governor Dayton's signature that brought ObamaCare to Minnesota. While Governor Dayton is defending MNsure's Executive Director taking a tropical vacation amid MNsure's botched launch, hardworking Minnesotans have been out in the cold, uncertain if they actually have health coverage for their families."
MNsure's woes have continued into December, as some applicants still struggle to navigate system that was supposed to make shopping for health insurance easier and more affordable. But tens of thousands of Minnesotans now have health insurance through the online marketplace and the state expects thousands more to sign up between now and Dec. 23, the deadline to lock in health coverage for January.
"We're past the point where MNsure's problems are acceptable," Dayton said. "People who are calling should get prompt, efficient service...Fix the glitches."
MNsure spokeswoman Jenni Bowring-McDonough said Todd-Malmlov remained in contact with staff and "engaged on a daily basis with MNsure" throughout her vacation.
A similarly-timed tropical vacation cost the executive director of Maryland's health insurance exchange her job. Rebecca Pearce resigned last week amid criticism of job performance after she returned from a week-long Caribbean vacation.