ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Leaders of Minnesota's health insurance marketplace said Wednesday they might postpone next week's deadline to enroll for January coverage, after a chaotic rollout of the state program that led to the resignation of its former executive director.
April Todd-Malmlov, who had led Minnesota's marketplace since its inception under the federal health care law, abruptly resigned Tuesday without a severance package. She faced criticism for taking a vacation to Costa Rica last month amid problems with a buggy website, long helpline waits and erroneous data sent to insurance companies.
Minnesota, a historically progressive state, fully embraced the state-run health exchange advocated in President Barack Obama's signature domestic proposal. But the state's troubles with the rollout of its program in some ways mimicked problems experienced during the rollout of the federal exchanges for states that didn't create their own.
Scott Leitz, an assistant state human services commissioner appointed to replace Todd-Malmlov as MNsure's interim CEO, said the state has increased the number of call center employees in recent days. An IBM division that's one of the main MNsure contractors promised an additional 80 employees to work on-site with MNsure to tackle continued technological problems.
"We acknowledge people have struggled with the website," Leitz said. "There have been times people have been frustrated. We've had long wait times. These are operational issues that need to be addressed, and they will be."
Brian Beutner, the chairman of the MNsure board of directors, said Wednesday that it was under consideration to postpone next Monday's enrollment deadline for those who want coverage starting Jan. 1. Beutner and Leitz stopped short of guaranteeing that every Minnesotan who wants coverage starting Jan. 1 will have it, but said anyone who selected and paid for a plan can count on coverage.
In recent days, the MNsure website has been unavailable for long periods and wait times to its toll-free helpline has, at times, reached 60 minutes. In addition, Minnesota insurance companies said data they're getting from MNsure about enrollees has in many cases been either insufficient or plagued with errors.
Questions about Todd-Malmlov's leadership grew after she took a vacation to Costa Rica. Following disclosure of that trip, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton — who appointed the MNsure board of directors — notably withheld praise for the agency's leadership and called the problems unacceptable. Dayton praised the board for what he called "strong action to change immediately the executive staff leadership" and said Leitz was a good replacement.
In an email Tuesday night to MNsure employees, Todd-Malmlov wrote that her resignation "is necessary to protect the welfare and privacy of my family." MNsure spokeswoman Jenni Bowring-McDonough said Todd-Malmlov received no severance package.
Todd-Malmlov had been earning a $136,680 salary. Leitz will earn the same figure.
Eileen Smith, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, which represents the state's largest insurance companies, said insurers in recent days have finally been able to start sending out insurance cards to many people who bought coverage. But she said there are at least several thousand people whose coverage is hung up because of ongoing challenges with MNsure's systems.
She outlined an easier route for purchasers of private insurance who don't qualify for federal subsidies to pay for it: simply contact the insurance company directly and pay them, rather than going through MNsure.
Despite MNsure's problems, the agency reported Wednesday that the number of sign-ups to private insurance plans through the site grew significantly in early December.
By Dec. 14, 11,805 people had signed up for private plans — more than twice the 4,478 private policies that had been purchased by the end of November. That's in addition to 27,150 people who signed up for the state's two public insurance plans through MNsure.
The agency estimates that in all, those sign-ups translate to 97,573 people who will be covered since many plans cover more than one family member.
Associated Press reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this report.