By Don Davis
Gov. Mark Dayton has been more involved in the state’s controversial health insurance marketplace than was publicly known, and he said that ultimately he is responsible for the new agency’s problems.
He told reporters Thursday that he and his staff have been in regular contact with MNsure officials, and even more often as deadlines approached and computer glitches, problems with a help line and other issues built up.
“I have been closely involved with MNsure in the last several months…” he said. “The buck stops here.”
Dayton refused to say if he asked MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov to resign. She quit, without a severance package, during a hastily called closed-door MNsure board meeting Tuesday night. Board members immediately replaced her with Assistant Commissioner Scott Leitz of the Human Services Department.
MNsure board Chairman Brian Beutner said he had talked to Todd-Malmlov about her desire to resign before Tuesday, but he said he did not ask her to quit.
On Wednesday, Beutner and Leitz apologized for MNsure’s problems, which include computer issues that thwart many Minnesotans’ attempts to buy health insurance from a website. On Thursday, Dayton added his comments.
“I apologize to those Minnesotans who were seriously inconvenienced or distraught by the failure of MNsure,” Dayton said.
The governor said such problems are “not acceptable” and promised to do everything possible to fix them.
“The problem is with leadership, it is with Gov. Dayton and his commissioners,” Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said in a radio interview.
She said problems were ignored for too long
“There is no oversight,” Benson said. “The governor has the power to appoint the board.”
Dayton’s comments on his close ties with MNsure as problems piled up will become part of the governor’s race next year.
Referring to Republicans like Benson who say he is responsible for MNsure and its woes, Dayton said: “I’m not backing away from that. … I’m responsible for all that happens in Minnesota … in the state government.”
“Next November (in the election), Minnesotans will assess the pluses and minuses of my performance,” he added.
Dayton and the Democratic-controlled Legislature established MNsure earlier this year as the state’s response to new federal health-care law. The governor strongly supported it, but he said that in mid-November he began to be concerned as problems began to build up.
Minnesotans face a Monday deadline to sign up for insurance via the MNsure website (www.mnsure.org) if they want policies on Jan. 1. The MNsure board is looking into extending the deadline, but with Jan. 1 so close, there is little time left to make changes.
Tens of thousands of Minnesotans are close to buying insurance, or already have done so. Eventually, a million people are expected to rely on MNsure to obtain health insurance coverage.
Policies sold on MNsure come from private insurance companies, whose agents still can sell policies. However, Minnesotans who use government-financed Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare, or qualify for other federal aid, must go through MNsure.
Minnesotans with questions can contact a MNsure call center (855-366-7873), but one of the agency’s problems is that users report very long waits and MNsure hangs up on people waiting on hold for an hour.