MNsure’s birth: A tale of incompetence, report suggests

Today’s release of the review of MNsure from the Office of the Legislative Auditor leaves a big question for MNsure’s board of directors and the Commerce Department: What were you thinking when you put such incompetence on the payroll?

This one page in the report concerning the development of the technological infrastructure by MNsure is a how-to on developing something that is sure to fail.


MNsure rejected the auditor’s finding on this point, saying it contradicts the facts. It contends the I.T. agency’s participation was robust, although it acknowledges its expertise “was not utilized in the early stages of the project.”

The legislative auditor recommended that MNsure’s CEO be appointed by the governor, rather than MNsure’s board of directors.

That would require the Legislature to change the law.

It helped create the mess, passing a state law exempting MNsure from the authority of Minnesota state government information technology division, and creating a board to oversee MNsure staff without providing the authority to .

April Todd-Malmlov, the failed CEO of MNsure, has landed on her feet. She’s now a senior vice president at Avalere Health, a Washington firm that consults with business and industry on healthcare issues.

She refused to talk to the legislative auditor for today’s report because she wouldn’t be paid to do so.

The commissioner of I.T. — who appears to have seen the disaster coming and tried to stop it — left the Dayton administration several months ago.

  • MrE85

    Compared to the full-bore disaster “Cover Oregon,” MNSure has been a huge success. Well, it will be interesting to see where they go from here.

    • Maybe it’ll work out fine; maybe it won’t. But this report is a classic take on EVERYTHING that is wrong with the functions of government.

  • Jeff

    I have an IT bias, but I didn’t understand why someone in health policy was administering what was at it’s core an IT project. I don’t recall the politics but why was MNSure exempt from MN.IT oversight? Anybody know?

  • A huge, complicated technology product defined in legislation, what could possibly go wrong?

    The number of large technology products that launch successfully, on-time, the first time out of the gate is shockingly low. You could count them on one hand and still have five fingers left over.

    This is a great overview of why these things go bad:

    If legislators were ever expecting a flawless process, they were delusional.

    • Guest

      I’ll add that it also required waiting for stupid things once the law was passed. You will notice that the law passed in 2010, but the request for proposals weren’t issued until 2011. A year passed before work could begin because the previous Republican Governor wouldn’t let any work begin. Then there were huge delays waiting for the Federal election to see if Obama would win and waits to see how the Supreme Court would rule. Normal tech projects usually don’t have those types of issues.

    • This is the part that mystifies. The apologists for MNsure — that is to say: DFLers– seem to say you had two choices (1) a system that works or (2) health care for thousands.

      This is, of course, utter nonsense.

      Nor does it excuse the approach that the staff took to the situation, by freezing out Carolyn Parnell and her group. Parnell, for the record a former MPR I.T. boss, has forgotten more about processes like this than most people in the business will ever know.

      The fact that things in I.T. often fail first time out shouldn’t be an excuse for the incompetence detailed in the report. On the contrary, it should be a reason to bring proper resources to the table.

      As for the rolling it out without testing, well, that only affirms that MNsure was being run by the Clampetts.

      Flawlessness is an absurd expectation. Competence in a minimum requirement of the job they had to do.

      And that was the point of failure. At the Legislature. In the Commerce Department. At the MNsure board. On the staff. Complete and total incompetence.

      I’d be curious how many of those involved are still picking up a state paycheck.

      • Jeff

        No excuses, but wasn’t a lot of their trust placed in a contractor who supposedly knew what they were doing? Also, a total disaster it wasn’t – although it wasn’t pretty there was enough working to get it running competently by January.

        • Not exactly, no. In 2012, three companies were picked to build parts of the exchange. then, two months later, it decided that it would use only one vendor . It negotiated a deal with Deloitte but the price was too high.

          So it signed a deal in July 2012 with Maximus.

          Maximus told the legislative auditor that it was an “arranged marriage” and they weren’t allowed to pick their subcontractors.

          Exchange staff started working with subcontractors without going through Maximus.

          Their contract was modified in May 2013 and by then, obviously, this turkey was never going to fly.

          So basically, if you read between the lines, there was a control freak running MNsure who was isolating her agency from the expertise that existed in and which normally by statute she would’ve been required to use had it not been for a combination of her own failings and a Legislature willing to suspend the statute it has enacted a short time previously to prevent this from happening in the first place.

          It’s just a horrible example top to bottom of malfeasance – political and otherwise.

          BTW, when it came time to get someone in there who knows what they were doing, guess who the new CEO picked? Deloitte.

          BTW, to their credit, much of what was in today’s report, was reported more than a year ago by MPR reporters Elizabeth Stawick and Catharine Richert.

          Stawicki now works for the legislative auditor.

          • joetron2030

            What’s really depressing is that the “leadership” that should rightly get painted with the failure brush will manage to land (or already have landed) a cushy next job in the private sector.

            The only people who should come out looking good are the folks at the lowest levels who were handed the actual job of programming this disaster under the ridiculously tight deadlines that they had no hand in setting. And the poor call center folks who’ve had to deal with helping people work with this system.

          • Jeff

            Oh, ok. Then heads should roll. Does the report mention how April’s tan turned out in Costa Rica? Glad she’s choking on her DC steak and lobster and can’t make time for us.

  • John O.

    I didn’t realize that April had the ability to evade the Legislative Auditor by refusing to answer questions, unless she was paid. Arrogant.

    • joetron2030

      I found that really shocking too. Total CYA move if there ever was one.