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Watchdog report of tropical trip leads to MNsure director’s resignation

By   /   December 17, 2013  /   No Comments

By Tom Steward/Watchdog Minnesota Bureau

ST. PAUL, Minn. — MNsure‘s top official resigned Tuesday following a Watchdog Minnesota Bureau report that she took a two-week Costa Rica vacation in late November, during the rocky rollout of the state $150 million health insurance exchange. 

April Todd-Malmlov‘s abrupt resignation came during a closed emergency session of the agency’s board of directors. Subsequent reports revealed that Todd-Malmlov was accompanied on her tropical getaway by Jim Golden, Minnesota’s Medicaid director, raising possible conflict of interest and other concerns.

“MNsure Board Chair Beutner thanked Todd-Malmlov for her work in launching MNsure and acknowledged the efforts of the many employees at MNsure who have worked around-the-clock over the past few months to further MNsure’s mission,” according to a MNsure news release issued after the meeting.

Beutner also announced that Scott Leitz will replace Todd-Malmlov and serve as Interim Chief Executive Officer while MNsure carries out a search for a permanent CEO.

“Scott has been a proven leader at the Department of Human Services where he has managed a large and complex organization effectively,” said Beutner in the release. “We are fortunate to have someone with his capabilities and his intimate understanding of MNsure available to step in quickly and lead us through these critical next few months.”

Governor Mark Dayton (D) quickly announced his support of the move.  “I commend the Members of the MNsure Board for their strong action tochange immediately the executive staff leadership at Minnesota’s Health Insurance Exchange. I fully support their decision, and I have confidence in Scott Leitz’s abilities to lead MNsure as its Acting Chief Executive Officer,” said Dayton in a statement.

Todd-Malmlov becomes the second executive director of a state health exchange to resign after going on a tropical vacation in the midst of ongoing technical glitches and other problems faced by thousands attempting to sign up for health coverage. Rebecca Pearce, director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, resigned December 6 following criticism of her trip to the Cayman Islands.

“At this point if you’re clearing the decks, it’s like clearing the decks of the Titanic,” said Sen. Scott Nienow, R-Cambridge, a member of the MNsure Legislative Oversight Committee. “It’s too late to fix anything of significance. I’ve had three emails today from constituents, including one broker, saying ‘I can’t get in to get people signed up! What is going on?’”

“I think she’s doing the right thing,” said Barb Stonebraker, a Victoria woman who tried unsuccessfully for weeks to obtain coverage on MNsure. “When you’re in this crisis mode, you don’t just take off and leave. I guess if she doesn’t understand that, she shouldn’t be at the helm.”

The office of Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, and the MNsure board of directors approved Todd-Malmlov’s Costa Rica trip in advance. Todd-Malmlov was available by phone and email throughout the trip, and communicated with MNsure personnel every day, the agency said.

“MNsure must do better. If there are problems or mistakes, we will acknowledge them and fix them,” said Leitz. “I look forward to working with MNsure’s talented team to make MNsure work for the people of Minnesota.”

Contact Tom Steward at tsteward@watchdog.org.

 

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Tom Steward covers government waste, spending and policy issues in his home state of Minnesota. Also a documentary filmmaker and in-depth broadcast journalist, Tom's work has appeared on NPR, Animal Planet, WCCO-TV, WGBH-TV, PBS, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, KSTP-TV, CBC, among other outlets. Highlights include the fall of the Berlin Wall, a Peabody Award, the first footage in the wild of the endangered Sumatran tiger and rhino and countless individuals who shared their stories, big and small. Steward served as a communications strategist in the U.S. Senate before returning to reporting on issues and people often overlooked by other media.