MNsure, administration tried to fake its way through health care rollout

There weren’t a lot of surprises in yesterday’s Star Tribune report examining how the state so botched the initial rollout of the MNsure health exchange website last October. The level of incompetence — if not outright deceit — was already pretty obvious.

It mirrored a similar analysis by MPR reporters Elizabeth Stawicki and Catharine Richert, both leaving reasonable people asking how some people get important jobs with the state.

But there’s still plenty of head scratching to go around as it becomes more obvious that people tried to fake their way through the rollout, that they knew the site was flawed, and yet nobody seemed to have the courage and honesty to say something to avoid the train wreck that took months to clean up.

April Todd-Malmlov, the deposed project manager, granted her first interview and said the decision to launch in the face of pending disaster was made jointly by her, the governor’s office, and the human services commissioner. She had reportedly told the governor of the site’s flaws in mid-September, after allegedly telling him for months that things were fine.

Todd-Malmlov said she didn’t mislead anybody, but the human services commissioner was the only person who knew just how bad the site’s problems were, the Star Tribune reported. And nobody, apparently,told the MNsure’s board of directors, the group that was supposed to be overseeing the whole operation.

For that, the blame falls on Todd-Malmov, who never shared the warning signs with the board. “Are there things I would have done differently? Yeah, there are,” she told the paper.

She reportedly said it never occurred to her to tell the board. That statement requires a certain suspension of disbelief.

Here’s the thing: A few days after delivering bad news to the governor, many of the same people were testifying before a legislative oversight committee.

“Is it ready?” asked Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights.

“We are planning to go live on October 1st,” Todd-Malmov said. “Yes, we absolutely feel very confident about the system.”

And that’s how you mislead someone.

  • Jack

    Time to look at how the responsible individuals’ compensation plans were structured. That could have been a key component to the decisions being made and the information being communicated. Seen that too many times in my career.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    As I tweeted yesterday, the biggest problem for the governor is that he’s going to have to answer some pretty tough questions with his credibility diminished after his bumbling on medical marijuana. How it plays out will be…interesting.

    I would guess the DHS commissioner takes the fall. The article details how she knew the full scope of the problems. Wouldn’t be surprised to hear her say she never told the governor about them which, again, post-medical marijuana, will be a test.

  • There has never been a clearer mandate that Democrat leadership, state and national, is utterly criminal and needs to be ousted. They are poison.

  • MrE85

    Yawn. Next.

    • You just perfectly displayed the problem. Supporters of the health care law were more than willing to say “yawn, next” in the face of problems, while opponents of the law were the boy who cried wolf, because they’ve been so busy hyperventilating over anything. The lacked any credibility.

      Politically, this project is a match between two sides with no credibility.

      • MrE85

        “You just perfectly displayed the problem”
        Then my work here is done.
        I would seem that it is the job of the news media, which ideally is neither pro nor con ACA/MNsure, to find this middle ground where the truth may (or may not) be found. It is the job of an informed public to seek out this knowledge, and to decide for themselves what they think about how this process worked. Or not. It’s a free country.
        Personally, I have little interest in rehashing MNsure’s past. I’m more interested in what comes next for the ACA, both here and nationally. I’m ready for “next.”

        • What if MNsure’s past reveals an underlying culture that is destructive to good government. does it matter then?

          • MrE85

            Perhaps. But that remains to be seen, and cultures can be changed/reformed. How the program conducts itself in the present and future should be at least as important to a fair evaluation as its mistakes in the past. I have heard nothing yet that pushes my outrage buttons. Perhaps that shoe hasn’t dropped yet.

          • kevinfromminneapolis

            I happen to think being intentionally misled and straight out lied to is too important to dismiss with a yawn.

            Note my inherent biases accordingly, but when we’ve seen the Dayton administration already willingly withhold information about an illegal campaign use of taxpayer resources (complete with the questionable move of redacting the incriminating information from public disclosure), an illegal contract that resulted in $67,000 from taxpayers for his campaign lawyer, from a governor who (to put it generously) may have misled the press on what he said to some medical marijuana supporters, I am very interested in looking at MNsure’s past having learned over the past five months that there was some serious mismanagement and a, to me, stunning lack of accountability.

          • MrE85

            I also note, accordingly, your firsthand knowledge of state government and your desire to make it better (at least as you define better).

  • jon

    Sounds like every other IT project out there…

    it hinged on some developers building it right, which hinged on some BA giving them understandable and accurate requirements, which depended on the government spelling out the requirements. Over all the project manager has no control over what is happening, but can see it when it fails, but the test requirements that were built is what the developers developed too, so it go through testing fine…

    The only difference between a successful project and an unsuccessful one is the people who work at the very beginning of the process, before a single line of code is written. When something goes bad there, there will be no time to fix it, and since little can be done, it’s problems go essentially unacknowledged until some one complains (which if no one complains can be quiet the time saver).

    • Jack Ungerleider

      My only comment about project managers and projects like this is that I was a contract developer brought in to test phase 1 of a project that was outsourced to a company that “had the solution on the shelf”. It turned out that the solution they had didn’t work well in the environment we were in. As a result I kept sending emails to the PM and his boss, the person who brought me into the project, about how this wasn’t working and there was no way they would hit deadlines. The project was being done on a platform with its own email and my messages were sent via that system. The PM saw them as did the other analysts and support staff. The boss didn’t. The reports she got from the PM never mentioned my concerns. So the failure of the system to meet its deadlines was being telegraphed and senior management was being stonewalled.

      FWIW, we started pretty much from scratch 9 months after the initial start and beat the 90 day deadline by about 2 weeks with a system that did what they wanted.

    • tboom

      >>Sounds like every other IT project out there…<<

      Corporate as well as government!

      Too many customers that don’t know what they need, too many business analysts that don’t understand the business AND can’t communicate with either customers or technical analysts, too many technical analysts that can’t translate business specifications into technical specifications, and too many programmers that have a better way (standards be damned). Oh, and too many managers with no technical background who know exactly how long, and not a moment longer, it takes to complete a technical task.

  • johnepeacock

    Almost all larger-media angles on any of the health care rollouts seem to miss what the whole programmer/tech community sees as crystal clear: there were too many non-tech people making technical and timeline decisions that shouldn’t have. They tried to fumble their way through by just telling their superiors that it was all just going fine. It’s the oil and water mix of the tech world meeting the bureaucrat world. I wouldn’t have wished that development project upon my worst enemy.

    Second thing to note: a problem well stated is half solved. It’s doctrine in the programmer community.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mythical_Man-Month
    http://www.michaelrwolfe.com/2013/10/19/50/

  • killershrew

    Sadly, the Dayton administration put a lot of people in executive leadership roles within state agencies that have no business being there. People that are too inexperienced, or that simply don’t have the right background for the job. What IS Todd-Malmov’s work history, BTW? Has she ever led the roll out of a major website before? Has she ever been in a managerial position? I’ve led website rollouts before. As far as I can tell from the reports that I’ve read, this was an issue of inexperience. Someone with experience rolling out complex websites should have been able to navigate the pitfalls that came with implementing this system.

    And for the record, since Bob wrote below that politics is at play in the comments of respondents to this piece and that both sides are in lock step with their political beliefs and “lack credibility” – I voted for Dayton. I work for the state. From what I’ve seen of this administration, I can’t say that I’ll vote for him again.