New MNsure exec admits problems, promises fixes

CEO Scott Leitz
MNsure Chairman Brian Beutner, left, listens as interim CEO Scott Leitz speaks during a press conference Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, in Minneapolis. Leitz took over Wednesday after the resignation of April Todd-Malmlov. She faced criticism over complications with insurance sign-ups under the federal health care law.
Glen Stubbe/The Star Tribune via AP

The new head of Minnesota's troubled online health insurance marketplace apologized Wednesday for the operation's turmoil and vowed to take on its monumental challenges.

"We are committed 100 percent and fully committed to making this process a better one," said State Human Services Department Assistant Commissioner Scott Leitz, who took over as interim MNsure director after April Todd-Malmlov resigned Tuesday as criticism over the site's rollout intensified.

Letter to staff from Todd-Malmlov:

Leitz said the organization will focus its work "with the consumer in mind, with health insurance in mind."

The task will not be easy. Leitz has stepped in to lead a highly complex organization reeling from sharp criticism all around -- from frustrated consumers to Gov. Mark Dayton and his Republican opponents. He'll be trying to pull off a feat new to state government -- an interactive website that lets consumers compare plans and enroll in health coverage.

MNsure's problems are exacerbated by a looming deadline -- consumers who buy insurance through MNsure and need it to start the beginning of next year first must choose a plan and pay by the end of the day Monday.

Everyone who has enrolled in MinnesotaCare or Medical Assistance will have coverage on Jan. 1, but when it comes to picking a plan, there will continue to be a delay, said Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson.

Applications must be manually entered and all the department's resources are being dedicated to making sure that people are alerted that they've been enrolled, she said.

A new person at the helm hasn't softened many MNsure critics.

No Republicans in the Legislature voted to create MNsure, and they contend it's so riddled with problems it's beyond fixing. Changing MNsure's leader won't make any difference, said Rep. Greg Davids, R- Preston.

"That really doesn't help anything, because anybody going in is going to fail," Davids said. "This cannot work. It's not working. It's an outright disaster and the governor and the DFL that passed Obamacare in Minnesota need to be held accountable for this."

Davids said he wants answers about all of the problems at MNsure, and he called on the MNsure board to "come clean."

Republicans are wrong to want to scrap a system that has already enrolled tens of thousands of Minnesotans, countered House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.

Leitz and consumers might find some wiggle room in the short term. At least one health insurer selling policies on MNsure will extend a payment deadline.

Officials at Medica say that people who have enrolled by Dec. 23 in one of its plans will have until Jan. 10 to pay for it.

Other insurers are exploring the option.

HealthPartners officials say they're working with regulators to find out if an extending is possible and UCare officials say they support the idea. Nationally, health industry officials say insurers are voluntarily extending the deadline for consumers to pay their first month's premium to Jan. 10.

MNsure board members have also discussed the possibility of extending the enrollment deadline. MNsure's board chairman, Brian Beutner, supports the idea but wouldn't guarantee that everyone who wants coverage Jan. 1 will have it.

MNsure latest numbers show nearly 39,000 individuals are in the enrollment process. About two-thirds are on government programs such as Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare.

MPR News reporters Tim Pugmire and Catharine Richert contributed to this story.