Dayton slams IBM for failures with MNsure website

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 4, 2014 - 6:48 AM

Governor sent angry letter to CEO about 21 specific problems.

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A Dec. 13 letter from Gov. Mark Dayton to IBM CEO Virginia Rometty illustrates the extent of technical problems at MNsure -- and how long they festered.

Photo: Scott Eells, Bloomberg

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A little more than a week before Minnesotans faced the first deadline to purchase coverage under the new health law, Gov. Mark Dayton fired off an angry letter to the chief executive of IBM Corp., in which he blamed the technology services giant for troubles plaguing the state’s online health insurance exchange.

In the five-page letter, dated Dec. 13, Dayton told CEO Virginia Rometty about 21 specific problems in IBM software and demanded that the company “immediately deploy whatever people or resources are needed to correct the defects in your product that are preventing Minnesotans from obtaining health insurance through MNsure.”

The response was swift: IBM sent dozens of workers to St. Paul and pledged to spend up to 4,000 man-hours working on MNsure, the state’s new insurance exchange, with no expense to the state.

The letter, released Friday by Dayton’s office, sheds more light on the chaotic past month at MNsure. The new state agency was forced to ­overhaul its leadership after struggling with technology, all while under tremendous pressure to sign up its first customers.

The letter showed again that officials allowed MNsure’s software problems to drag into December, long after the October launch of its website, and that Dayton was forced to resort to extreme tactics.

Two days before sending the letter, Dayton said the problems at MNsure were keeping him up at night. And four days after, MNsure’s chief quit. One of the first decisions of the agency’s new leaders was to delay the first enrollment deadline for consumers to buy insurance policies under new rules called for by the federal Affordable Care Act.

Since writing the letter, Dayton has had five meetings with IBM and MNsure executives about the performance of the website, his spokesman, Matt Swenson, said Friday. The company and agency have made “important improvements” in recent weeks, Swenson said, adding that Dayton continues to monitor the situation.

“The governor will not be satisfied until MNsure is operating at 100 percent,” Swenson said.

MNsure got through the first round of customer sign-ups, which concluded this past Tuesday, a deadline that was pushed back from Dec. 23 during the troubles last month. On Friday, MNsure said 67,805 Minnesotans enrolled in a health plan by the Dec. 31 deadline, including 14,600 who signed up during a rush in the last four days of December.

MNsure’s website site continues to be unstable, however. It went down for several hours Thursday afternoon and will be closed this weekend for “scheduled maintenance.”

MNsure’s board of directors will meet Wednesday, and interim CEO Scott Leitz plans to review the performance of IBM and other vendors.

IBM’s Curam subsidiary is a subcontractor on the $46 million project to build MNsure’s technical infrastructure. It was brought in by Maximus Inc., a technology services firm in Reston, Va., that is MNsure’s lead contractor and working under a federal grant.

IBM’s portion of the MNsure software determines customers’ eligibility for Medicaid and MinnesotaCare as well as federal premium tax credits for those buying private insurance. IBM says the software is used in more than 80 government projects around the world.

IBM spokeswoman Mary Welder said in an e-mail Friday that the majority of concerns with its software have been addressed, and that the system is now handling cases at “over a 95 percent daily success rate.” She also noted that IBM is just one of several subcontractors and that Maximus has overall responsibility for the MNsure system.

“Although our original role on this project was limited, we are bringing the full resources and capabilities of IBM to the state because of the importance of the success of the project,” she said.

‘Still not 90 percent complete’

Dayton’s letter to IBM contained two dozen bullet points that he called a “a partial itemization” of defects.

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