MNsure to pay $3 million for additional website help
ST. PAUL -- MNsure plans to spend another $3.16 million for help from a New York-based consultant with fixes to its troubled information technology system.
The state’s health insurance exchange agreed this spring to spend $4.95 million for assistance from Deloitte in assessing problems with the MNsure system plus help managing the project.
Now, with the additional funds, Deloitte would help implement a plan to improve the MNsure website and related systems before most consumers start using it again Nov. 15.
The MNsure board voted Wednesday to authorize negotiations on the expanded contract, but Republicans criticized the decision because information on the proposed amendment wasn’t made public prior to the board’s meeting in St. Paul.
“This has become a trend at MNsure board meetings: an agenda is released reflecting potential action on a contract or other document, the document is not made public until the beginning of the meeting, and action is taken with little or no time for public examination,” Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, wrote in an email to board members Wednesday.
Hoppe wrote that the proposed amendment should have been made public at least 24 hours before the meeting.
MNsure board chairman Brian Beutner responded with an email saying Wednesday’s vote was meant to authorize negotiations, not approve a final contract amendment.
“We have specifically chosen to make this discussion public, even though counsel advises us that … MNsure is authorized to have such a discussion in a closed meeting,” Beutner wrote.
The proposed changes wouldn’t alter the overall price tag for the state’s health insurance exchange, MNsure officials said, because the funds would come from within the $155 million in federal grants the state has already received.
Federal grant money also paid for the original $4.95 million contract with Deloitte.
“They are the right vendor,” said Scott Leitz, the MNsure chief executive officer, during Wednesday’s meeting.
Tom Baden, a state information technology official, said that with Deloitte’s work so far, “we can finally see the entire project in plan form, which allows us to manage the product.”
Minnesota is one of 14 states plus the District of Columbia to launch its own online marketplace for health insurance to implement the federal Affordable Care Act. The law requires almost all Americans to have coverage, or pay a tax penalty.
Health exchange websites were meant to make it easier for consumers to buy health insurance while also determining whether they qualify for federal subsidies or government coverage. Problems with MNsure and other exchange websites, however, have prompted remedial work in several states this summer to get the online marketplaces working better.
Minnesota and other states have turned to Deloitte for help improving their websites. The next open enrollment period for people to buy commercial coverage through MNsure begins Nov. 15.
Under the new contract amendments, Deloitte will provide project management and help MNsure meet certain business requirements. The consultant will help with MNsure’s technical design as well as testing the website.
Deloitte also will provide 3,000 hours of professional technical services that can be used at the state’s discretion.
“Having Deloitte assist the state in implementation of the technology plan ahead of the upcoming open enrollment period will ensure an improved customer experience,” MNsure officials wrote in materials provided to the board.
Brian Keane, a Deloitte official, provided board members with a work plan that noted six key MNsure functions won’t be automated by November and another 21 likely will be provided with a mixture of automation and manual processes. Board member Lucinda Jesson asked for information about how many state workers will be needed to fill the gaps left by the lack of automation, but Keane said details on such a resource plan aren’t yet available.
Similarly, Baden said it wasn’t yet clear how many additional workers from MN.IT — the state’s information technology department — will be needed to help MNsure moving forward.
A key challenge with the upcoming open enrollment period, Keane said, is making sure the MNsure system can accurately calculate the size of federal tax credits that health insurance shoppers are entitled to. Doing the calculation right, Keane said, involves recognizing federal poverty guidelines for 2014 and 2015.
Eligibility for tax credits, as well as government-provided health insurance, depends on an applicant’s income level relative to federal poverty guidelines.
“The entire country is grappling with this,” Keane said.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.