Posted: 6:47 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013
By Elizabeth Stawicki and Catherine Richert, MPR News
The head of Minnesota's health insurance marketplace resigned Tuesday after facing criticism over the troubled rollout and a questionably timed vacation in Costa Rica.
April Todd-Malmlov submitted her resignation during an emergency closed session of the government board of MNsure, Minnesota's version of the insurance exchange that's tied to the federal health care overhaul. She had been under increasing pressure over insurance sign-up problems and failed to get a vote of confidence from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton last week.
A top official from the Minnesota Department of Human Services will be the new leader at MNsure.
Assistant Commissioner for Health Care Scott Leitz will serve as the interim executive director for MNsure until the agency can find a permanent replacement for Todd-Malmlov.
MNsure's technological problems coincided with ongoing political fallout from Todd-Malmlov's decision to go on a two week international vacation at the end of November with her partner, James Golden -- the state Medicaid director, who has been working on the rollout of MNsure.
"The Board believes the organization is at a stage where it needs a CEO to manage both MNsure's current challenges and position it for greater success in the future," said MNsure board chairman Brian Beutner in a statement. "Scott has been a proven leader at the Department of Human Services where he has managed a large and complex organization effectively."
Dayton praised the move.
"I fully support their decision," the governor said in a statement. "The recent problems some have experienced with MNsure are completely unacceptable."
State Sen. Tony Lourey, D-Kerrick, wrote the bill that authorized MNsure. He said that he respects Todd-Malmlov's smarts.
"That said, issues have been mounting and transparency is a problem that we've been trying to work on," Lourey said.
Lourey said that he's pleased with the board's choice of Leitz because he's worked on many health care initiatives over the course of many years.
Meanwhile, state Republicans who have long been critical of a health insurance exchange said the announcement is too little, too late.
"Tonight's news offers no comfort to hardworking Minnesotans who are still unsure if they'll have insurance coverage on January 1st," said Kurt Daudt (R-Crown). "For too long, Governor Dayton and Democrats have ignored the reality that their new state agency, MNsure, is failing Minnesotans."
Todd-Malmlov, 36, led the development of Minnesota's health insurance exchange since its formative days in early 2011. It was once under the joint control of two state agencies but is now an independent entity. The Minnesota native previously served as the state of Minnesota's health economist and also worked for Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group.
In his most recent role at Human Services, Leitz has been working on updating the computer systems used to check whether someone is eligible for Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare.
For its part, the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, which represents insurers, said it's not concentrating on personnel changes.
"Our focus isn't MNsure staff," said the group's executive director Julie Brunner in an emailed response to a request for comment. "It's getting people coverage by Jan. 1, 2014. This was always going to be a monumental task even with all stakeholders collaborating."
Minnesotans have until Dec. 23 to get a policy that starts on Jan. 1. Open enrollment lasts through the end of March.
But many people continue to have difficulty signing up, and MNsure has been scrambling to address a litany of problems.
For instance, consumer information it sends to insurance companies selling plans on the exchange has been incomplete or inaccurate. As a result, insurance companies warn that people who think they have coverage starting in January won't be covered.
People trying to find out whether they have coverage complain they have been on hold with MNsure for up to an hour. And this week, the site wasn't able to process new applications.
Also Monday MNsure officials told about 1,000 health plan applicants that they need to sign into their accounts and re-apply for coverage in order to receive federal tax credits.
This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes MPR News, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communications organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.