When the head of Minnesota's online insurance exchange traveled to Costa Rica for a vacation last month, she was with another state official who oversees a key medical program.
The trip by MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov came during a time when the insurance marketplace was continuing to struggle with technical problems. State Medicaid Director James Golden joined her on the trip, according to both agencies.
"While Mr. Golden plays an important role with MNsure regarding public programs, ultimate authority and responsibility resides further up in the organization," state Department of Human Services officials said in a statement. "During his absence there were senior officials deeply involved in the project, including an assistant commissioner, deputy commissioner and commissioner. While he was away Mr. Golden was in regular contact with them and MNsure."
Golden did not return a call from MPR News. Officials with Human Services and MNsure said there is no conflict of interest in Todd-Malmlov and Golden's relationship.
"There is no reporting relationship between them. Mr. Golden is a DHS employee, Ms. Todd-Malmlov works for MNsure," the statement said.
The two are involved in the implementation of the insurance marketplace website. Todd-Malmlov oversees the day-to-day operations of MNsure. The new marketplace is also meant to help determine eligibility for people who qualify for Medcaid -- or Medical Assistance, as it is called in Minnesota -- and the Human Services Department and MNsure have been working closely to make sure the site is able to do that.
Also, Golden has been involved in the implementation of MNsure for several years in various roles at Human Services and the Minnesota Department of Health. He was a member of the MNsure Advisory Task Force created in September 2011.
As the Health Department's health policy director, Golden's name appears in a planning document from December 2012, where it states that he would be assisting "with the assessment of the costs and options for the technical infrastructure of the Exchange."
In June of this year, as deputy assistant commissioner of Human Services, Golden gave a presentation to the MNsure board about how the new website and the computer systems used to determine Medical Assistance eligibility would interface.
In that role, Golden served under Scott Leitz, the department's deputy commissioner who is in charge of the program's day-to-day operations.
Golden was named State Medicaid Director on Nov. 6, according to a spokesperson. In part, the job entails working with the federal government on Medicaid issues.
The MNsure board knew about Todd-Malmlov's trip to Costa Rica. But at least one board member said he didn't know she was traveling with Golden. "I didn't talk to her about her vacation," said Thompson Aderinkomi.
Aderinkomi said the fact that the two of them were gone together doesn't bother him. He said there were no gaps in communication while Todd-Malmlov and Golden were gone.
"If half the MNsure team went to Costa Rica at the same time, I might be concerned," he said. "But people take vacations. They're working really hard."
Peter Benner, who is also a board member, said he had no comment on the issue. Other board members were not immediately available for comment.