News : MNsure Says It's Still FixingFflaws with IT System
Nov 5, 2014 -- Technical flaws persist within the MNsure exchange more than a year after its debut, and state officials said Wednesday that fixes may not be complete before open enrollment begins Nov. 15.
Officials remain hopeful that the website will be improved from last year, but tests could uncover new problems that can’t be resolved before the deadline, said John Schadl, a spokesman for MN.IT. That would force MNsure to quickly implement contingency plans, such as returning to the one-on-one assistance to help connect people with coverage that it employed last year.
"This is going to be a high-risk project. And we are going to use that full runway up until the go-live date," Jesse Oman of MN.IT, the state’s information technology agency, told the MNsure board at a meeting Wednesday.
A full update about the status of the information technology system is expected from MNsure officials next week, before thousands are expected to start using the health exchange to renew coverage and shop for new plans. But insurance agents said Wednesday they remain frustrated by the lack of answers.
"We are asking for complete and utter transparency today — assisters need to know what’s coming," Alycia Riedl of the Minnesota Association of Health Underwriters told the board. "We don’t know how the system is going to work."
Minnesota launched the MNsure health exchange last year to implement the federal Affordable Care Act, which requires almost all Americans to have health insurance. Board members Wednesday were focused on the update of MNsure’s information technology system, because the balky health exchange website last year frustrated thousands of consumers who then endured hourlong waits from an overwhelmed call center.
The call center is one reason that MNsure officials say they are optimistic about the upcoming open enrollment period. Initially staffed by about 22 people last year, nearly 300 workers will be answering phones this time around, said Allison O’Toole, deputy director of external affairs at MNsure.
Whereas insurance agents and health insurance "navigators" were barely trained at the outset of open enrollment last year, MNsure this year has a much better network to help insurance shoppers, O’Toole said.
Still, the presentation from information technology officials was meant to provide a cautious assessment of where the MNsure website stands, Schadl said.
"We have a reasonable level of confidence that we’re going to be able to clear those obstacles and have the code ready in 10 days," Schadl said in an interview following the board meeting. "But we also don’t want to paint an unrealistically rosy picture, because we don’t know that for sure right now."
Schadl said he did not want to describe exactly what backup plans are in the works if fixes to the software code don’t work.
But where the state suspects things could go wrong, officials are "actively developing contingency plans to have a workaround to deal with it," he said.
"There are a couple of things we certainly learned from last year," Schadl said. "One is, it’s not enough to just rely on the technology. … Last year, we really didn’t have contingency planning in place."
During Wednesday’s meeting, board members said they sympathized with insurance agents and pressed IT officials to provide some way for consumer assisters to become familiar with the system before open enrollment starts. Board member Phil Norrgard picked up on Oman’s analogy in describing the situation, and said: "If you use up the runway, that means there’s less of a runway for our partners."
But Brian Keane with Deloitte — the consulting firm advising MNsure on website improvements — stressed the importance of continuing with the plan for testing and implementing website fixes. There are fewer than 10 "blockers" that IT officials are trying to tackle, Keane said, and some of those are critical to the website’s performance.
"We need those days just to make sure we work through those," he said.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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