Who should be held accountable for MNsure’s website failures?

Becky Fink, a MNsure navigator, helps Mic-Ryan Freeman, 22, fill out a paper MNsure application for health insurance Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 at Nucleus Clinic in Coon Rapids. While the MNsure website continues to have problems, Fink encourages people to use the paper application, which Fink then faxes to MNsure for them. Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

“Using MNsure should have been easy for Becky Fink,” write MPR News reporters Catharine Richert and Elizabeth Stawicki.

As a local clinic director, she’d been trained by the new health insurance exchange on how to help people sign up online.

But the site never worked for her even though she “tried, tried, many, many times, many times.”

It wasn’t her fault.

Fink was among thousands of other Minnesotans who saw MNsure’s cheery Paul Bunyan TV ads and tried to use the site once it went live in October. Some had success, but others are still trying to get insurance or have given up all together.

But behind MNsure’s upbeat façade was a swamp of management failures and tech glitches that would cripple the more than $100 million website.

MNsure leaders blamed tight deadlines and evolving federal requirements for the website’s malfunctions.

However, internal MNsure documents and interviews with insurance company officials, county workers and other stakeholders reveal a more complicated story.

Today’s Question: Who should be held accountable for MNsure’s website failures?

  • TCguns_carry

    Everyone who voted for Obama.

  • PaulJ

    The person who signed off on the final readiness check (and maybe the person who hired that person).

  • kevins

    Given the scope of the project, and the intent behind the effort to enable health care for all citizens, I think that blaming someone, some thing, or lots of someones and somethings if fruitless and masochistic. We are better than that. There is a problem to be solved, and to the extent that we can work together to address it, we will all prosper. Blaming is for the angry, for the nearsighted, and for those who feel helpless.

    • Reality122

      There is a difference in blaming out of spite and holding people accountable. Have you never returned a product to a store for a refund when it failed, did not meet your expectations, or was otherwise flawed? Did you feel angry, nearsighted, or masochistic when you do so are are you simply looking to be made whole again?

      • kevins

        Interesting analogy, but I would argue that what I choose to or need to do as an individual is substantively different that what we do as a culture.

        • Reality122

          Perhaps, but this law has very real individual consequences, some good and some bad. As a member of the people that have been affected by the negative consequences of the law I find it very frightening that my concerns are suppressed under the guise of the greater collective. When we take only a macro view of things without spending at least some focus on the individual components we are setting ourselves up for failure. It is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

  • Rich in Duluth

    It sure sounds to me, from the story, that there simply was not enough time to build such a complex piece of software. Designing and building anything is always a problem solving process that is complicated by an unreasonable deadline. Probably the blame can be spread from delays imposed by the Pawlenty administration’s rejection of the planning grant to MNsure staff or contractors not wanting to say that this can’t be done in the allotted time.

    But, the software is working now, can’t we move on and celebrate the fact that more people now have access to health care?

  • Pearly

    I guess we could start at the top

    • Jamie

      To continue Jim G’s apparent point from yesterday, It’s Bush’s fault and you’re a racist 😉

      • Pearly

        🙂

  • reggie

    Taking the long view, I hold Bill Clinton accountable. If he had kept his pants zipped and focused his formidable skills, we would have had a single-payer national health system in the 90s. In the nearer view, responsibility rests with John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and their ilk. They quashed any hope of a single-payer system, and still waste endless time trying to repeal the feeble ACA step to provide more comprehensive insurance. If we had single-payer, we wouldn’t be dealing with this patchwork of federal and state systems. We’d just have a Medicare-style system that seems to work pretty well.

    (Hasn’t the person with primary responsibility for MNSure’s problems already been sacked? Why continue the witch hunt? Isn’t there enough to do to build out a functional system without wasting this time trying to figure out who else to blame?)

    • J F Hanson

      Regarding the Republican blame-game on the Federal level: This bill was passed with no Republican votes. What makes you think that Boehner, Ryan ‘and their ilk’ had anything to do with the bill?

      Democrats could’ve passed any sort of bill they wanted to, and the blame for this mess is entirely on their shoulders.

      What we’ve seen so far, as MPR’s report shows all too well, is that bureaucrats of any type have nothing to do with the formidable issue of building the product. If it couldn’t be accomplished–and it surely couldn’t given the Federall bureaucrats’ role in changing specifications–then somebody had to have the courage to say so, and to not say so is a failure of leadership at every level.

      BS-in=BS-out. Fire them all.

  • shyestviolet

    MNSure management, for poor communication. Solve by ensuring managers have leadership qualities/meet competencies and have project management skills, rather than being subject matter experts.

    MN Legislature, for ensuring state projects like this go with the lowest bidder. We’re set up to fail before we even start. …no solution in sight on that one.

  • Jim G

    “A massive undertaking with a tight timeline…”
    There are bound to issues with any IT project. That being said, there were communication problems, personnel mismatches, and changing Federal requirements that contributed to the disappointing rollout of MNsure. Pawlenty can share in the blame when he vetoed a million dollars for planning early on, thus slowing initial development of the technical side of the equation. Then Dayton while supporting the effort, never really got a handle on the specific IT problems faced by MNsure’s ambitious and overly complicated website. He has a large responsibility for choosing the leadership, which failed in their oversight.

    In Shakespeare’s play Richard III, after his horse Is killed,
    the King cries out, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.”
    Let us hope that all the King’s men will be able to bring this
    dead horse, MNsure’s website, back from the dead.

  • Tom in Minneapolis

    As Catherine Rickert’s excellent report points out, the MNsure failures were systemic failures. There is plenty of blame to go around; from an ambitious IT project that didn’t have enough lead time to plan and execute successfully, to MNsure managers who couldn’t or wouldn’t communicate effectively, to politicians and legislators who in their differences over policy did not provide decisions early enough to allow for proper planning, to the Feds who tried to implement new standards with little lead time. There is plenty of blame to go around. Is there a lesson? Perhaps with a project this complicated you either decide whether it is worth going forward in the first place, or if you have made that decision, you accept the political costs of delaying the start up of a project if more time is needed to execute successfully.

    • PaulJ

      I don’t know, the IT people should have said it will work or it won’t work.

  • So sick of this s#!+

    Um let’s think… how about the same people who should be congratulated for its successes. Those have occurred too echo chamber.

    You said it yourself, it’s a complicated situation. Instead of echoing the blame game how about doing something constructive for a change?

  • David

    Who should be held accountable for MNsure’s website failures?
    The same as those who neglect to end the War on Drugs, who fail to repeal the prohibition of cannabis/Hemp, who decide medical marijuana is not a priority, who leave cannabis as a schedule 1 substance assigning it a classification less healthful than alcohol. The inept and insincere serfs of the 1 Percent … blame them as well as the 1 Percent.

  • AndyBriebart

    Of course not the people who voted for it,

  • JQP

    skip the blame game as an active event.
    If some legislator wants to go digging around in the pile and find conclusive evidence for someone to hang … he/she can do it on their own time and dime. I don’t want to see countless committee hours and wasted chasing a ghost only to arrive at another political statement and nothing functional to show for it.

    The thing has to exist. Spend the time and money fixing or replacing that.

  • Gary F

    Lets double down on stupid and propose single payer!

    Funny how the twin cities media doesn’t hold Dayton,Baak and Thiessen accountable.

  • Lynnmn

    I used the website today and found the plan comparison very easy to use. The only feature that doesn’t seem to work is when you attempt to find a provider or see if your current provider or clinic is a part of a given plan. So I improvised and found the information on each provider’s website.

    After spending 6 years in government, part of it in IT communications, I can tell you that, on the state level, there is so much pressure from the public to not hire back valuable staff who leave, that IT work is often farmed out to employees with no background. These employees are given the task to hire consultants for large projects and they have no idea how to structure a proper RFP or the necessary elements to look for in in the right contractor.

  • R RS

    Is it absolutely essential to assign blame? Yes, a few months ago I ran into problems with the site as did others. But a couple of weeks ago I was on the site and it worked quite well. Let’s stop the blame game, let’s be glad that the issues have largely been corrected, and let’s improve upon what we have. Instead of moping about what happened months ago, let’s now work to make things better for those who rely on the system. This way we may anticipate what future applicants will need and enable them to get the assistance they need without a hitch.

  • RedWhite&Blue2014NOW

    Say humans if you really care you can rally at the White House or the State Capitol. I went with out Health care until this year. i do not have kids, own or a house or even drive I know I’m going to live. So stand up for your selves and stop wining….Take care of your family….If its really that bad you know what to do and no one wants to do it except moan and complain. I would do just fine with or with out health care….