MNsure paying firm $4.95 million for help fixing website
ST. PAUL -- For help figuring out how to fix its troubled website, MNsure is paying $4.95 million to a New York firm that’s successfully created health insurance exchanges in four other states.
Deloitte LLP designed and developed online insurance marketplaces that are working relatively well in Connecticut, Kentucky, Rhode Island and the state of Washington.
Minnesota’s health exchange website frustrated thousands of consumers last year, and continues to challenge health insurance companies, insurance agents and county workers who rely on the system to connect people with coverage.
With the contract announced Wednesday, Minnesota is joining three other states in turning to Deloitte.
“We are helping the states figure out the best path forward,” Kevin Kelly, a Deloitte official, said during a meeting Wednesday of MNsure’s board of directors in St. Paul. “This is not a look backwards, it’s a look forwards.”
Minnesota launched the MNsure health exchange last year to implement the federal Affordable Care Act, which requires almost all Americans to have coverage or pay a tax penalty.
In 2012, Deloitte was one of two finalists for the original contract to create the MNsure website. At the time, Minnesota opted for a Virginia-based company called Maximus Inc., which agreed to take the job for about $20 million less than Deloitte would take, according to MNsure officials.
Asked after Wednesday’s board meeting if he wished MNsure had hired Deloitte in the first place, interim chief executive officer Scott Leitz said he was focused on the future. Brian Beutner, the MNsure board chairman, added: “The state didn’t give MNsure a budget to hire them in the first place.”
In January, MNsure received a report from a division of Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group that outlined three pathways for MNsure to implement fixes ranging from scrapping the website to making incremental improvements with its current system. Deloitte will help MNsure decide which of the paths to take, Leitz said.
“We will have a much better sense in 60 days of where the challenges are likely to be in the system moving forward, what the recommended and optional pathways are, and a sense of which way we want to go,” he said.
Deloitte will work for nine months as project manager with MNsure’s existing software vendors — Connecture, EngagePoint and IBM — and make recommendations for future project management. Part of the work will involve a comparison of communication, governance and project management at MNsure with best practices in other states.
The consulting firm also will conduct an assessment of MNsure’s current technology and functional capabilities with an eye toward what fixes can be made before open enrollment in November. Deloitte also will make recommendations about longer-term fixes.
The money for Deloitte will come from about $155 million in federal grants that Minnesota received to create the health exchange.
Jenni Bowring-McDonough, a MNsure spokeswoman, said one reason MNsure didn’t hire Deloitte in 2012 is that the Maximus agreed to work with IBM, the subcontractor that wound up developing MNsure’s “rules engine” to determine if applicants are eligible for public health insurance or federal tax credits. A Deloitte spokeswoman said Wednesday that the company did not want to discuss past negotiations.
State officials have said many consumer problems in Minnesota can be traced to problems with IBM’s software. IBM dispatched a technical team to St. Paul in December to address the issues; company and state officials say there have been significant improvements as a result.
Deloitte takes over project management responsibilities that were carried up until early 2013 by Maximus. At that point, the state took over the job, saying it needed to focus resources on satisfying new requirements from the federal government.
Project management has been a weakness at MNsure, according to quarterly audits of the health exchange’s software system. A report for the three-month period ending Jan. 31, for example, said the “state is unable to effectively manage the project,” and that decisions were “not made in a timely manner.”
Testimony at Wednesday’s board meeting suggested that some are still struggling to use the MNsure system.
People use MNsure to determine eligibility for Medicaid, but finalizing enrollment in the public health insurance program often involves working with county workers to verify eligibility. For months, county workers have complained that they aren’t able to easily use the MNsure system and can’t help many consumers as a result.
“We see people crying. … It’s in our face,” Heidi Welsch, director of the family support and assistance division in Olmsted County, told board members Wednesday.
Many consumers have sought help using the health exchange from a new group of MNsure-trained advisers called navigators. The MNsure website this spring is working better than it did last year, but there are still problems, said Glafira Marcon, a navigator who works for Open Cities Health Center in St. Paul.
“With these glitches that we’re seeing, it takes too long to get to the person who can fix them,” Marcon told the board Wednesday. “I feel like the communication is pretty much one-way. … We often don’t hear anything back in a timely manner.”
As of Tuesday, nearly 189,000 people had enrolled in public and private health insurance coverage through MNsure. While the overall number is higher than forecast, enrollment in private coverage through the exchange stood at 48,157 — a tally that falls short of original projections.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.