MARSHALL - The Minnesota Republican Party spoke out this week - and spoke out loudly - against MNsure, Minnesota's new embattled state-run health exchange started as a result of the federal Affordable Care Act that mandates everyone carry health insurance.
The Minnesota GOP on Tuesday claimed the MNsure website had been down the "past two days," it has been "plagued with errors and malfunctions" from the start and that more than 100,000 Minnesotans have had their current plans canceled. All this with less than a week to go before the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline. Enrollment began Oct. 1, and coverage through MNsure was supposed to kick in Jan. 1.
"We're facing a deadline here shortly, and the Minnesota government isn't holding itself accountable, but I'd be willing to bet they'll hold individuals accountable for not upholding what is now a federal law," said Marty Seifert of Marshall, who is running against five other Republicans for the party's gubernatorial nod in 2014. "I see it as a real mess."
That "mess" was addressed to an extent Tuesday when the leader of MNsure, April Todd-Malmlov, resigned and was replaced on an interim basis by Scott Leitz, an assistant commissioner at the state Department of Human Services. Leitz will run the show until a permanent leader is chosen.
Todd-Malmlov's resignation does offer up some accountability, Seifert said, but the changing of the guard at MNsure doesn't solve the problem.
"A resignation isn't going to resolve all of these major issues," Seifert said. "We have people literally staring at the ceiling worrying about whether they're going to get health insurance or not."
Seifert said the healthcare exchange, designed to show customers their options they have to purchase health insurance, already a controversial issue since the nationwide launch of Obamacare, is becoming an increasingly contentious topic all across the state because of the rising cost of health care policies and troubles with the website and helpline in general. Seifert said Minnesota has essentially taken a step back in an area it has been a national leader in for years but is now facing myriad issues having to conform to federal health insurance guidelines.
"We've been Number 1 or Number 2 in health care coverage for people, and I think after Obamacare and MNsure, it could be argued that we'll have fewer people covered - it's the opposite of what we're trying to solve. I'm not saying there weren't problems with health insurance before, there were, but Minnesota had figured out a lot of things, and now we've been thrown in the same basket as Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey."
Minnesota is one of 14 states that operates its own health care exchange.
One of Seifert's challengers for the GOP nomination, businessman Scott Honour, called for Todd-Malmlov's resignation earlier this week. Honour's remarks came on the heels of news that Todd-Malmlov took a vacation despite ongoing problems with the enrollment process. Seifert said he wasn't concerned about Todd-Malmlov's travel plans as much as he was about the people who are having legitimate issues getting signed up on the exchange.
"The main issue is we've got to figure out how to help people who have been thrown aside in the health care discussion," Seifert said. "I'm running into people all over the place who have a lot of angst and have had sleepless nights over this. The reality is, they've got to be all hands on deck and get things figured out."
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton calls MNsure's problems with data and helpline wait times unacceptable and says they must be resolved soon. Dayton last week called out MNsure board members and said it is the responsibility of the board and the senior staff administering the program to right the ship. In an emailed statement, Dayton said has he has confidence in Leitz's abilities to lead MNsure as its acting chief executive officer.
"As I have said before - and have made emphatically clear to the MNsure Board - now is a critical time for Minnesotans who are relying on this exchange to purchase good quality, yet affordable, health insurance," Dayton said. "The recent problems some have experienced with MNsure are completely unacceptable. I am hopeful that this new leadership will lead to their swift resolution."
Seifert, who is fully phased out from his position with Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center as he campaigns, wondered if Dayton won't call legislators to St. Paul for a special session to deal with the state's health insurance dilemma.
"If it is a federal law, they might need to have a one-day special session to say, 'Look, we're not going to punish the people on this,'" he said. "But does that work in concert with what the federal regulations are? We can't have 140,000 people wondering whether or not they have insurance and tens of thousands more trying to sign up."