ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The man who runs Minnesota's online health insurance marketplace says there is plenty of work ahead as it prepares for a new round this fall of trying to get as many residents signed up for coverage as possible, as smoothly as possible.
MNsure stumbled out of the starting gate last Oct. 1 with a balky website and lengthy waits for help from its call center. It was running much better, but not perfectly, by the time open enrollment ended March 31, thanks to extensive technical fixes and a beefed-up call center staff. Now its interim CEO, Scott Leitz, is using the offseason to regroup for a new round of open enrollment that starts Nov. 15.
Leitz, 48, said in an interview Wednesday that MNsure is counting on a study by Deloitte Consulting to provide "a really clear pathway forward for us." He said the top priority in MNsure's first several months was fixing the parts that consumers use. Much of the attention now will turn toward providing a stronger operation behind the scenes for the counties, insurers, brokers and navigators who help consumers sign up, he said.
"There's a lot of back-end things ... that a consumer might not see as they're going through the website but that are very, very important to being able to ensure that they have a good experience," Leitz said.
More than 200,000 Minnesotans have now enrolled for coverage via MNsure, which Leitz claimed as a success. MNsure will be working with University of Minnesota researchers in the coming months to try to determine just how big of a dent the federal Affordable Care Act and the exchange actually put in the ranks of Minnesota's uninsured, he said.
Leitz also claimed success because MNsure offered consumers some of the very lowest premiums in the country. He said it will be interesting to see if the insurance companies compete as aggressively in the next open enrollment period.
MNsure's board of directors turned to Leitz, who had been an assistant commissioner of human services in charge of the state's Medicaid program, after MNsure's original CEO, April Todd-Malmlov, resigned abruptly last December. She came under fire for taking a two-week topical vacation while MNsure's problems remained unresolved.
Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, who helped shepherd the bill that created MNsure through the Legislature, said he hopes the exchange keeps up the progress it has made in recent months.
"They seem to be turning a corner on their IT issues," said Atkins, who co-chairs a joint House-Senate MNsure oversight committee. He said he's "only heard positive comments in recent times" from lawmakers in both parties about MNsure's leadership.
"Most of the critics now are just talking about ways to make it work better, which I find to be a very positive step forward," he said.
Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said she's "pleased that Scott Leitz is taking his position so seriously" but that she has her frustrations as well. She pointed out that Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's administration has decided not to release the premiums for 2015 policies until the next open enrollment period begins. Premium-setting is governed by the state Commerce Department, not MNsure.
"I think they expect the rates to be higher and it is a big risk for them ... for people to be experiencing rate shocks as they're trying to win an election this fall," she said.