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MNsure promises improvement and looks into extending deadline

MNsure Chairrman Brian Beutner, left, and new Chief Executive Officer Scott Leitz stand in front of MNsure mascots B be and Blue Ox and Paul Bunyan on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, as they talk to reporters. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Don Davis

ST. PAUL - Minnesota's health insurance marketplace leaders are looking into extending a Monday deadline for buying policies.

And MNsure's new leader promised Wednesday to improve service to Minnesotans.

"My focus coming into this is on the consumer," said Scott Leitz, who the MNsure board named chief executive officer hours earlier, after April Todd-Malmlov resigned as the agency's top staffer.

Leitz and MNsure Board Chairman Brian Beutner met the media Wednesday, then went into a regularly scheduled meeting in which they learned more than 45,000 insurance applications have been filed on MNsure's website. In all, 73,000 accounts have been created by Minnesotans looking into buying insurance.

Overshadowing Wednesday’s meeting was a Tuesday night one, closed to the public, in which Todd-Malmlov resigned. She had been the top staffer for more than two years.

The board hired Leitz as acting CEO at the meeting Tuesday night, paying him the same $136,000 annual salary Todd-Malmlov received. Leitz said he expects to return to his duties as assistant commissioner at the Human Services Department once a permanent MNsure CEO is hired, probably in about six months.

While Leitz praised the MNsure staff for doing "a remarkable job," he admitted that "people have struggled with the website."

MNsure users frequently report problems comparing insurance policies and buying them online. Those calling for information say they regularly have long waits, and after an hour the MNsure telephone system hangs up on them.

Telephone, computer and other glitches led to increasing criticism of Todd-Malmlov, with others saying they also were upset that she took a Costa Rican vacation in November, when MNsure was facing numerous problems.

Beutner said Todd-Malmlov did not tell the board why she resigned. He also said he did not ask her to leave.

The board chairman said he and Todd-Malmlov talked about her desire to resign earlier in the week, and he contacted Leitz about taking over.

Todd-Malmlov also was criticized for not telling the public current and complete information about the agency's work. Leitz promised to change that.

Still, he said: "Have we misled the public? No." He said the mostly online operation that began Oct. 1 faced a very difficult startup.

With the computer snags, there is a fear that some people who meet Monday's application deadline will not get insurance Jan. 1 as they expect.

Beutner would not guarantee that all who sign up by Monday will be insured Jan. 1, but he said MNsure, private insurance companies that provide policies and the Department of Human Services are looking into whether they can extend the deadline.

People must pay for policies before getting coverage.

To improve computer operation as well as the call center, Beutner said, "we are adding staff daily."

"We are committed to improving this system, and we will improve it," Leitz said.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.