Technology woes hobble MNsure web site, help line; lawmakers seek fix

Published 10:33 am Wednesday, November 2, 2016

By Mark Zdechlik

MPR News/90.1 FM

Minnesota consumers searching for health coverage ran into familiar frustrations Tuesday as MNsure’s web site was overwhelmed and robocalls bombed the helpline.

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For about a half-hour Tuesday morning, an error message greeted people logging on to the website of the government-backed health insurance exchange. A temporary fix allowed insurance sign-ups but left a comparison shopping tool MNsure has heavily promoted inaccessible, MNsure CEO Allison O’Toole said.

“I know it’s frustrating for Minnesotans and what I will say to them is be patient. We will get to you,” said O’Toole, adding that by some measures MNsure was 10 times busier this year than it was last year at the start of open enrollment season.

Officials are looking into thousands of automated calls that came into MNsure boosting average call center wait times to 34 minutes. MN IT — the state’s technical arm — says it’s investigating them as well as all of the website outages.

Scott Peteron, MN-IT’s chief business technology officer, said officials were seeing “an inconsistent number of calls from certain numbers,” so they were trying to determine exactly what was happening with those lines.

State technology officials say difficulties with MNsure’s website were part of a broader problem with some 70 state websites that did not appear to be linked to the traffic surge on the exchange.

Despite the problems O’Toole said some 15,000 people were able to start applications and the agency served some 50,000 Minnesotans.

The problems on Tuesday echoed MNsure’s disastrous 2013 debut, when technical and organizational problems led to the resignation of its first CEO. They came on the same day DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt met hoping to find a path toward a special legislative session to ease the pain of a huge cost hikes and shrinking options for many in Minnesota trying to buy health coverage not tied to their employer.