Amid growing consumer frustration and a series of embarrassing disclosures, MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov resigned Tuesday from her post running the state's new health insurance exchange.
Scott Leitz, assistant commissioner for health care at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, will take over as MNsure's interim chief executive until a permanent replacement can be found.
The announcements came Tuesday after an emergency meeting of the MNsure board of directors. Members assembled by teleconference and weren't actually present inside MNsure's headquarters, spokesman John Schadl said while addressing reporters inside the downtown St. Paul building on Tuesday evening.
"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," Brian Beutner, the MNsure board chair, said in a prepared statement.
"MNsure must do better," Leitz said in a statement. "If there are problems or mistakes, we will acknowledge them and fix them."
MNsure's problems and mistakes have become increasingly apparent in recent weeks as consumers have struggled to finalize health insurance coverage before a deadline Monday.
The issues ranged from an understaffed call center, which forced consumers calling in to wait hours on hold for help, to a health exchange website that's been riddled with glitches.
Over the past three weeks, officials have scrambled to send notices and make phone calls to thousands of consumers after the MNsure system wrongly calculated whether individuals qualified for federal tax credits to discount the cost of their coverage or for subsidized health insurance from the government.
In addition, recent reports that Todd-Malmlov vacationed in Costa Rica last month sparked outrage, even though MNsure board members knew of the trip and Todd-Malmlov maintained daily contact with health exchange officials.
"I commend the members of the MNsure board for their strong action to change immediately the executive staff leadership," Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement. "The recent problems some have experienced with MNsure are completely unacceptable."
Republicans said the changes don't provide comfort to Minnesotans still struggling to obtain coverage.
"For too long, Governor Dayton and Democrats have ignored the reality that their new state agency, MNsure, is failing Minnesotans," House Republican Leader Kurt Daudt said in a statement.
"It is time for Dayton to take responsibility and apologize to Minnesotans for not being sufficiently prepared," Ben Golnik, a Republican strategist and chairman of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, said in a statement. "This staggering incompetence is a new low."
Last spring, Minnesota lawmakers passed legislation to create MNsure and take more control over implementation in the state of the federal Affordable Care Act. Passed in 2010, the federal health law requires almost all Americans to have health insurance next year or pay a tax penalty.
Health exchanges are intended to make coverage more affordable and accessible. People don't have to shop on MNsure, but it's the only way to receive subsidies for insurance. The health exchange website was intended to help consumers by making it easier to buy health insurance.
So far, the federal government has committed more than $150 million to help the state create MNsure. The marketplace is meant to be an option for individuals and small businesses looking to purchase coverage.
"I want to thank April Todd-Malmlov for her hard work and leadership in moving MNsure from a mere idea to a marketplace with the lowest health insurance rates in the country," Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said in a statement.
Before becoming the state's health exchange director, Todd-Malmlov served as state health economist in the Minnesota Department of Health and held three positions at Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group, which is one of the nation's largest health insurance companies. Todd-Malmlov has a master's degree in public health from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor's degree from Beloit College.
Leitz has been overseeing Minnesota's Medicaid health insurance program, which provides coverage for more than 700,000 enrollees, including people with low incomes and disabilities. Previously, he served as director of public policy for Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and held several positions in the Minnesota Department of Health.
Earlier this year, Leitz was caught up in controversy at the Department of Human Services after an audit questioned his role in securing better payment rates for the University of Minnesota's Amplatz Children's Hospital. After the audit, a legal opinion commissioned by DHS concluded that the Minneapolis hospital should not have been exempt from Medicaid payment cuts that took effect for other medical centers in 2011.
Leitz will face a number of challenges as MNsure continues to have trouble sending information about enrollees to health insurance companies. Health plans warned earlier this month that the problems could prevent some people from having coverage Jan. 1.
On Monday, MNsure disclosed that it is asking 1,000 applicants to start over in order to obtain accurate calculations for their tax credits. The agency also acknowledged that because of a technology quirk, the MNsure call center has been automatically dropping calls after people wait an hour for help.
Leitz and Beutner, the MNsure board chairman, have scheduled a Wednesday news conference to address questions about the leadership change.
(c) 2013 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)