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MNsure won’t meet goals, study says; revamp on table


ST. PAUL — While limping along in the short run with its current troubled website, MNsure must quickly pick a strategy for making long-term software fixes and get beyond the recent “crisis mode” that has dominated program management, according to a consultant’s report released Wednesday.

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Some improvements to the current website can be made in the coming weeks, and MNsure can help consumers by doubling the number of people handling phone calls from consumers, according to a report from Optum, a unit of Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group.

The company recommended adding the equivalent of 100 full-time workers and using an Optum call center in Orlando, Fla.

But manual workarounds still will be needed to connect many consumers with coverage this year, according to the report.

In the long run, the report offers three options for the state: pick one of two strategies to remediate the current website, or make more fundamental changes that could involve hiring new software vendors. The report mentions more than 200 defects found with MNsure’s current software.

“Zero defects is not a realistic target,” said Jim Eppel, a senior vice president at Optum, in comments to MNsure’s board of directors during a meeting in St. Paul. “It is a series of trade-offs.”

Optum was brought in this month by MNsure to consult on software troubles that have aggravated consumers trying to use the state’s new health insurance marketplace. Minnesota launched the MNsure website to implement the federal Affordable Care Act, which requires almost all Americans this year to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty.

The company has been lauded by federal officials for helping improve the website, which serves as the health insurance exchange for 36 states this winter. Optum dispatched a team of 15 people to review the MNsure website during a two-day visit this month.

“They brought back some really very robust recommendations,” said Scott Leitz, the interim chief executive officer at MNsure, in comments following the board meeting.

MNsure will move forward in the coming days with plans to improve the call center, which likely will include outsourcing some functions to a vendor, Leitz said.

During the meeting, board chairman Brian Beutner suggested that Leitz could free up funds for the call center by suspending MNsure’s current advertising campaign, which features Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Leitz said he’d already told staff to do so.

Decisions on how to fix the website, based on Optum’s recommendations, will come over the next few weeks.