ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The troubled website for Minnesota’s health insurance exchange cannot be completely fixed in time for the March 31 deadline by which all Americans are supposed to have coverage under the new federal law, according to an independent review released Wednesday.
MNsure released findings of the review by UnitedHealth Group division Optum. It described a deeply flawed website that won’t be able to meet enrollment expectations without manual workarounds and other improvised fixes. People who don’t have insurance coverage by March 31 face federal tax penalties.
The review lays out several options for fixing the website that it said could take between 12 and 24 months. Among the options laid out are abandoning major aspects of the current website and essentially rebuilding it from scratch. MNsure officials commissioned the Optum review, and members of MNsure’s board of directors said at a meeting Wednesday they would immediately begin considering how to proceed from the options it laid out.
The review identifies a number of fundamental problems with MNsure.org, including:
— Lack of capacity for tying together all data entered by consumers.
— The inability for users to make changes to information they entered during the open enrollment period.
— Lack of access for workers to assist consumers who are shopping for insurance plans.
— Multiple sets of rules governing the website operations that lead to the potential for errors as they overlap.
— Inadequate testing capabilities for website functions.
In addition to rampant problems with the website, the Optum review tackled the MNsure toll-free call center, which has been plagued for many weeks by long wait times that continue to reach up to 50 minutes, the review said. The call center is inefficiently designed and should add about 100 employees to its current staff of 65, the review said.
A major flaw with the call center is that various types of calls for assistance all flow through the same operators, meaning people with minor, easy-to-answer questions are forced to wait just as long as people with more complex, time-consuming problems, the review said.
Scott Leitz, MNsure’s interim CEO, said Wednesday he had already started shifting resources in order to free up funds to hire additional call center staff. Leitz said he had halted continued advertising featuring MNsure mascots Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, who had been featured in a series of humorous spots meant to generate consumer interest in MNsure.
“We’re not going to be moving forward with that in this period,” Leitz said.
The MNsure website launched on Oct. 1, and users immediately began to complain about problems including disappearing applications, incorrect information and other hang-ups. MNsure officials were slow to acknowledge the depths of the problems, which in part led to the December resignation of the agency’s executive director.
The review found that MNsure had no “accountable leader” when the website started its meltdown.
Gov. Mark Dayton, a supporter of the federal health care law, has grown increasingly critical of MNsure’s problems and has also sought help from an IBM division that provided major portions of the site’s software.
The Optum review found that IBM division, Curam, was responsible for by far the largest number of problems with the website. In response to Dayton’s complaints, IBM has dispatched a team of employees to work on improvements to the site. Dayton has said he considers himself ultimately responsible for MNsure’s problems.
Despite the problems, MNsure reported that as of January 18, a total of 80,085 Minnesotans had enrolled in insurance coverage through MNsure.