Many Minnesotans have seen or experienced problems with MNLARS — the broken, inaccurate, unreliable and expensive state vehicle licensing and registration system. We’re writing to alert taxpayers, and remind the state Legislature and administration, of another similar and urgent software debacle: METS.
Counties are required to use the Minnesota Eligibility Technology System (METS) to determine the eligibility of nearly 1 million Minnesotans for public health care programs such as Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare. METS was intended to automate and streamline the verification process for health care programs to make sure those receiving services are, in fact, eligible.
This system has not provided efficiencies. Rather, METS has also proven to be broken, inaccurate, unreliable and expensive — requiring counties to spend local property taxpayer dollars due to the increased staff time needed to use ever-changing, cumbersome “workarounds” in order to do their best to determine eligibility accurately.
The main goal of the program — to properly judge qualifications and eligibility for services — is in disarray.
Going weeks or months without a license, tab, or plate because of the failure of MNLARS is frustrating. Now imagine being unable to access lifesaving treatment for a cancer diagnosis or health care for a newborn child because of yet another technological failure from state government. Ignoring the problem with METS is not acceptable.
These state IT failures are costing taxpayers money through wasted staff time and potentially inaccurate eligibility findings. Counties have spent an additional $30 million a year for staff to manually try workarounds for the METS system that still don’t fully fix the problem.
For example, the simple task of trying to close a case for a family that moves out of state takes about 39 steps and nearly 40 minutes. Case workers need to manually type in the address for each household member on each notice, print them out, and again manually send them out.
Olmsted County has added eight staff just to try to mitigate problems, where three different computer programs are needed to add children to family accounts. And yet the program continues to fail taxpayers and applicants alike.
Unfortunately, METS and county service eligibility testing is about to get worse.
On April 1, 2018, another new, untested computer program (this time courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Human Services) will be unleashed and required for counties to use for periodic data matching (PDM), intended to sample those receiving health care services to determine if they are still eligible.
To be clear, this program is important. Checking eligibility of applicants and safeguarding taxpayer dollars are good practices within any large spending program.
However, the reality is that this new PDM program will also fail, and not just because it’s being layered onto the METS system, which is already a disaster. It’s because it wasn’t tested. It wasn’t tested with a small group, and it wasn’t tested with a pilot. Any business plan would dictate testing any new computer program.
METS and PDM have failed and will fail thousands of Minnesotans in need of health care and health insurance. There will be more stress, heartache and public resources wasted, on top of the tax dollars spent to “fix” a computer system that has been improperly designed and remains untested.
Instead of burdening counties and constituents with these untested, unproved, unmitigated disasters, state government needs to help fix the mess it has created.
The Association of Minnesota Counties strongly supports legislative efforts that would require field testing of PDM at the county level before it is rolled out statewide. Further, counties support legislation that requires field testing of any new technology system used by counties prior to statewide implementation.
These are common-sense solutions so both county and state government can mitigate continued technology software problems while being efficient stewards of taxpayer dollars for technology services and health care spending.
The right way forward is proper time for testing, and fixing existing software problems before adding new features — not releasing an unreliable product. .
The governor and the Legislature should immediately take action to stop this man-made IT disaster and work to get it right. Taxpayers and those who depend on vital county services deserve better.
Rhonda Sivarajah is an Anoka County commissioner. Sheila Kiscaden is an Olmsted County commissioner.