New MNsure leader promises improvements

By Don Davis

Minnesota’s new health insurance marketplace leader used his first day on the job to promise that he will improve how MNsure operates.

“My focus coming into this is on the consumer,” Scott Leitz said Wednesday.

He apologized for MNsure’s problems since it began selling insurance Oct. 1.

“We are committed to improving this system and we will improve it,” Leitz added.

The MNsure board named Leitz acting chief executive officer Tuesday night, after April Todd-Malmlov resigned as the agency’s top staffer amid several controversies.

With numerous computer glitches and long delays when people call MNsure for help, there is a fear that people who buy insurance policies for a Jan. 1 start may not meet Monday’s deadline, and even if they do meet the deadline, concern remains over whether new policies will be active at the first of the year.

The MNsure board voted to look into extending the Monday deadline for buying policies, but whether it can happen depends in large part on whether private insurance companies that provide policies can get their work in time for policies to begin Jan. 1.

MNsure board member Phil Norrgard, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa human services director, said he has heard concern from many Minnesotans about whether coverage will begin Jan. 1.

Even with the Monday deadline, the MNsure board heard Wednesday, not everyone will receive insurance coverage cards before the first of the year. However, anyone who finishes buying and paying for a policy by the deadline will be insured in the new year, officials said.

MNsure opened its website to Minnesotans to compare and buy health insurance policies Oct. 1 to meet requirements in a federal health care law known as Obamacare. Most insurance policies are being bought online, some with the help of people who aid consumers navigating the system. A few written applications have been accepted.

While most Minnesotans will continue to get health care provided by employer-offered insurance, MNsure sells policies to those who need to buy private insurance. MNsure also is the place where clients of government-funded Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare must obtain coverage.

The MNsure board on Wednesday heard that more than 45,000 applications to buy policies have been filed. In all, 73,000 accounts have been created by Minnesotans looking into buying insurance.

Overshadowing Wednesday’s meeting was the 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 on Tuesday night, paying him the same $136,000 annual salary Todd-Malmlov received. Leitz said he expects to return to his assistant Human Services Department commissioner duties once a permanent MNsure CEO is hired, probably in about six months.

Todd-Malmlov received no severance package from the state.

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 MNsure for information say they regularly have long waits, and after an hour on hold 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 faced numerous problems.

Board Chairman Brian 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 her agency’s work. Leitz promised to change that.

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

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