MARSHALL - While MNsure seems to be having about as good a month as Target is, former state legislator Marty Seifert of Marshall - one of six Republicans with an eye on taking over Gov. Mark Dayton's job next year - said the state might have been able to avoid problems if it had taken the advice of Republicans in the Legislature in 2013.
"I think there's a multiplicity of problems with this," Seifert said. "One thing is Minnesota was rushed in with Obamacare, and I think not everyone understood what they were getting into. The second part is there were a variety of suggestions that Republicans had in the Legislature that the Democrats turned down. For example, to qualify for subsidies you have to be part of MNsure-approved plans, and the Republicans said, 'Why don't you open that up to every possible insurance product that sits within the guidelines?'"
Seifert said Dayton should have also appointed people with insurance experience to the MNsure board - people that have an understanding of technology and product development.
New interim MNsure director Scott Leitz, who took over the health insurance exchange after April Todd-Malmlov resigned Tuesday amidst problems with the website, long helpline waits and false data sent to insurance companies, said Wednesday the issues will be resolved.
He said the state has increased the number of call center employees, and an IBM division that's one of the main MNsure contractors promised an additional 80 employees to work on-site with MNsure to address ongoing technological problems.
Seifert, a former House Minority Leader, said last week that MNsure - Minnesota's one-stop health insurance marketplace where individuals, families and small businesses can sign up to get health coverage, which is now federally-mandated under the Affordable Care Act - has set healthcare in Minnesota back. He said the state now has its hands tied because it has to live within the conformity of federal constraints.
"They created what is, in essence, an unworkable situation, one that will actually get worse before it gets better because of mandates and penalties that will kick in in 2014," Seifert said.
Seifert, who was campaigning in Shakopee and St. Paul on Monday, said the best solution now is to "deconstruct" the health exchange to make it more accessible and more affordable. Seifert said the state has wasted money on advertising instead of looking out for Minnesotans and offering direct help for families in the form of tax credits or health vouchers.
"They've spent all this money on government bureaucracies, independent contractors and marketing expenses - that's not giving anybody health care," Seifert said.
The deadline to enroll with MNsure was originally Dec. 23, but on Friday it was extended by one week, to Dec. 31. Coverage through MNsure was supposed to go into effect Jan. 1. Leitz said people will have until Jan. 10 to pay for their coverage.
Calling MNsure's issues "unacceptable," Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday apologized to Minnesotans for the inconvenience MNsure has caused.
Seifert said January will be a month when his campaign will be looking to continue its momentum by alternating between rural and metro locations and building up to the Feb. 4 caucuses - the first opportunity for people to vote for governor in a non-binding vote.
"It's an important benchmark," he said. "With six people running on the Republican side, you generally want to finish in the top three. That would be the initial goal."