Minnesota’s MNsure: Go, auditor, goWhen things don’t go well, it’s time for tough questions. Minnesota’s legislative auditor is rightly preparing to ask them about MNsure, the state’s troubled health exchange under the Affordable Care Act.
By: St. Paul Pioneer Press, Duluth News Tribune
When things don’t go well, it’s time for tough questions. Minnesota’s legislative auditor is rightly preparing to ask them about MNsure, the state’s troubled health exchange under the Affordable Care Act.
Scrutiny by James Nobles and his staff is needed after the system failed thousands of Minnesotans with technical glitches, lost applications, unreasonable wait times and repeated service outages. MNsure’s managers and board, as well as Gov. Mark Dayton, should be prepared.
The system’s failures were made all the more vexing when MNsure invited and encouraged Minnesotans — and set expectations — in “one of the most unprecedented advertising campaigns I’ve ever seen in government,” Nobles said. The ads feature Minnesota icons Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.
An initial step, an already-planned audit that began Tuesday, will detail how the state spent federal money to launch the program. There’s more to come, and that’s good for Minnesota and those depending on MNsure.
It is his “top priority for this year,” Nobles said, “to deliver as much oversight and accountability” as possible for what has happened at MNsure.
His agency, the Legislature’s watchdog office, is in a good position to pursue the investigations, with “not only the responsibility but the authority to require MNsure and anybody else that’s involved to deliver to us complete open access to all the records, all the data.”
Members of the media, Nobles added, are telling him they “can’t get at some of the documents and data; some people at MNsure are not being responsive to their requests for interviews.” But when the auditor’s office calls, “They can’t refuse us,” he said.
His office, created in 1973 to strengthen accountability and promote good management in government, has built a solid reputation for credibility. Its body of work has made Minnesota a better place, and Nobles, who has served for 30 years, in November was appointed to a sixth term.
“What Minnesotans should expect, and what I will deliver to them, is a thorough, independent, objective assessment,” Nobles said. “I know people have a lot of questions about how this all happened, and I hope to answer as many of them as I possibly can.”
The initial review will include a focus on contracts and vendors.
“I don’t want to be too rhetorical or inflammatory in the language I use,” Nobles said, but in a letter to IBM last month Dayton was “getting close to saying this thing is a bit of a disaster.”
His purpose was to say, “It’s a disaster, but it’s ‘your fault, IBM.’ ”
Instead, Nobles said, the governor’s first question should have been, “Why wasn’t this contract managed better” by the state?
“We manage vendors all the time,” he said. “One thing we know is that you’ve got to actively manage those contracts. You cannot be just a sideline observer.”
There should have been checks on the contractor’s performance frequently and in detail, Nobles said. “It’s late — very late — for the governor to be intervening at this stage and saying you didn’t perform as we expected under the contract.”
The auditor told the Pioneer Press he’s also planning a review of information technology security measures on the
MNsure website and wants to launch a third inquiry, a top-to-bottom evaluation of MNsure’s performance, management and governance.
Nobles also highlighted another aspect of MNsure’s operations that he says has escaped much notice: its board, which was “supposed to be one of those mechanisms of oversight and accountability that was to ensure success.”
There are “a lot of issues and questions about what we’ve gotten in terms of value-added from the board itself, much less the management of MNsure,” he said.
Nobles is ready with the tough questions. The sooner the better.