MNSure director criticized for taking two-week tropical vacation amid enrollment problems
MNsure executive director April Todd-Malmlov is taking heat today for a two-week tropical vacation she took in late November as the state health care exchange website struggled with a number of problems.
MNsure staff say they were prepared for Todd-Malmlov's long-planned vacation and had no trouble covering for her while she was out of the country, but conservatives argue it was irresponsible for MNsure's top official to take a vacation just weeks before some Minnesotans stand to lose their health coverage unless they can successfully navigate the exchange's balky website.
The story was broken by Watchdog.org in a post entitled, "Life's a beach: MN health exchange defends director's tropical vacation." Here's an out-of-office email reply Watchdog's Tom Steward included in his article:
Watchdog, citing MNsure staff, reports that Todd-Malmlov was out of the office for eight business days before the two-day Thanksgiving Day holiday for state employees, with part of her vacation spent in Costa Rica. Her absence came while some consumers continued to struggle to purchase health care through the MNsure exchange.
A Star Tribune report details some of the exchange's ongoing problems:
The worst may be yet to come. Officials expect a rush of traffic in the run-up to the Dec. 23 deadline. Those who fail to sign up by then won't face penalties until March 31. At that point, if they remain uninsured, consumers will have to pay a penalty of $95 or 1 percent of taxable household income, whichever is greater.
The closer the enrollment deadline looms, the more people scramble to enroll, and the more MNsure scrambles to deal with the increased traffic.
Its website continues to bog down at peak times, and some people have been kicked off the site, mid-enrollment.
On Wednesday, the estimated wait time was 60 minutes to get through to the center.
But MNsure spokesperson says Todd-Malmlov's absence wasn't a big deal, especially since she was available on her phone and via email while away.
"Our leadership here works very, very closely with April, and the rest of the MNsure staff are deeply trusted and have the full faith and trust of our executive director and were at the helm in partnership with April even when she was out of the office," Jenni Bowring-McDonough, media relations coordinator for MNsure, told Watchdog. "It certainly was not a case of any gap in forward motion or any gap in work that needed to be completed and attended to because our commitment every day is to making the improvements that we need to make so that people can have the coverage they need starting January 1."
The Minnesota Jobs Coalition isn't convinced, however. This morning, the conservative group distributed a press release blasting Governor Dayton and MNsure for being asleep at the wheel while the ship is sailing through rough waters.
"It's no surprise Governor Dayton announced yesterday that the MNsure problems are keeping him up at night, and every Minnesotan should be concerned about the disastrous roll-out of Obamacare in Minnesota," Ben Golnik, chairman of the Jobs Coalition, says in the release. "It is very concerning that MNsure's top official left her post for two weeks, with new issues arising almost daily. It is high time for Governor Dayton to exercise leadership and fix MNsure in Minnesota."
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