Minnesota’s new health insurance exchange won’t go live until sometime Tuesday afternoon, as testing of the complex system continues into launch day.
After a series of glitches attracted criticism in recent weeks, officials of the MNsure exchange insisted Monday that the afternoon opening does not reflect a delay. Executive director April Todd-Malmlov said at a late afternoon news conference that the exchange’s connection with a federal hub needs a “final check” and that it would take “a little bit of time” to make sure everything is secure.
Todd-Malmlov said she would not be able to provide a more precise timetable for the launch until Tuesday morning.
“Anytime you go into a new enterprise, there are things you expect and things you deal with that are unanticipated,” she said.
Connecting with the federal hub is a key function to enroll consumers through online health exchanges, which are expected to roll out nationwide Tuesday as part of the federal health law commonly known as Obamacare.
Todd-Malmlov offered little in the way of explanation for a timetable that calls for an afternoon launch. But MNsure leaders have tried to assure legislators and the public that it will run checks and perform “due diligence” to ensure that the system has proper safeguards in place to protect consumer data.
“We have always planned to be up on October 1,” she said. “We do need to do that in coordination with our federal partners. We want to be sure we are doing that in a planned but not rushed way to make sure everything is ready to go and working on Day One.”
MNsure, a marketplace that will allow consumers to make apples-to-apples comparisons among plans, has come under scrutiny in recent weeks above and beyond the swirling controversy over Obamacare.
Criticism centered on an incident in which an employee sent out an e-mail that contained Social Security numbers of about 1,500 brokers, as well as a $2 million grant program that failed to include groups skilled in reaching those most in need of insurance, including African-Americans and those with mental health needs.
Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, a critic of the federal law who sits on a legislative oversight panel, said Monday that the afternoon opening “raises red flags.”
“They clearly need more time … which is why they’re not going live until the afternoon, as opposed to 9 a.m. or 8 a.m. or 6 a.m. when everyone would think you go live — when business opens in the morning,” Nienow said. “It begs the question whether everything really is going to be set, secure and well enough to go, or are they arbitrarily trying to make that [Oct. 1] date?”
Steve Parente, a University of Minnesota professor who has testified in Washington and urged caution in getting the federal hub up and running, said the announcement was “disturbing” and “a little unsettling.”
“Asking for five more hours with something this huge just doesn’t feel right,” he said. “There are a lot of moving parts for this thing to go off. Maybe some of the functionality that was promised with the hub no one saw until the weekend or Friday.”
Minnesota is not unique in needing to do something of a “final walk through” with the federal hub, MNsure officials said. Some states could put up a website early, but consumers likely would only see what plans are available and wouldn’t be able to complete the enrollment process.
“We have decided to put up the entirety of our functionality at one time,” Todd-Malmlov said.
MNsure officials dialed back expectations on other fronts as well Monday. They said the website initially will be able to enroll consumers only between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. That’s partly tied to the availability of the federal hub and partly to allow time for upgrades to the system.
There also has been a logjam getting more than 5,000 “navigators” certified by the state, Todd-Malmlov said, and consumers needing their help will need to wait until Wednesday. Navigators are expected to play an important role in signing people up for coverage, and will include brokers as well as county workers, library staff, community outreach workers and staff at medical clinics.
Todd-Malmlov said background checks and license verification are still underway, and some navigators only recently completed their online training. The MNsure call center will be available to answer questions and can provide paper forms, but they will not help people enroll.
With a government shutdown possible, federal officials said it wouldn’t affect the federally run marketplaces, and Todd-Malmlov said she was expecting a shutdown wouldn’t affect MNsure either.
“We anticipate we will be up tomorrow unless we hear differently” from federal officials, she said.