More executive turnover at MNsure as chief plans to resign

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — MNsure's chief executive announced his resignation Monday, paving the way for a third leadership shakeup at the beleaguered agency in less than two years.

Scott Leitz will step down later this month after just 18 months on the job to take a position at a Washington, D.C.-based health policy think tank. MNsure's board of directors accepted his resignation Monday and appointed one of his deputies to lead the agency in the interim.

The leadership shakeup comes as Minnesota lawmakers debate the exchange's future, with proposals ranging from abolishing its governing board and establishing MNsure as a full-blown state agency to dismantling MNsure entirely and shifting to the federally-run exchange. Any planning for a permanent replacement will wait until Republicans and Democrats hammer out a deal to solidify MNsure's future.

A longtime presence in Minnesota health care policy with stints overseeing the state's Medicaid program and serving as its health economist, Leitz took over at MNsure in December 2013 on an interim basis after the exchange's first chief executive resigned in a swirl of technological nightmares and a controversy over a tropical vacation. He was named permanent CEO last April.

His last day is May 22.

After announcing his plan to depart, Leitz called it "one of the most challenging and satisfying jobs I've ever held." He said dueling plans in the Legislature that would change his job title — or eliminate his position entirely — played no role in his resignation. Rather, he was lured away by a job at the Health Care Cost Institute.

Leitz has been a steadying hand at the exchange since taking over, largely succeeding in his promise to stabilize the website and cut down call wait times. But some technical problems persisted into year two and enrollment continually fell short of projections, triggering rounds of budget cuts.

Nearly 220,000 Minnesota residents had signed up for health care in the second round of open enrollment as of mid-April. More than 70 percent of those enrollees were placed in public programs such as MinnesotaCare or Medical Assistance.

Gov. Mark Dayton said Leitz made big improvements after entering "a very difficult situation" at the exchange.

"It's been a tough haul," Dayton said. "I wish him well. You get burned out in a position like that."

Even Republicans credited Leitz for his leadership at their least favorite agency, likening it to boarding the Titanic before it sank. But Sen. Michelle Benson and other GOP lawmakers said Leitz's exit is evidence of issues at MNsure larger than Leitz, or his successor, could fix.

"The fact that they have had this much turnover in MNsure's very short existence points to fundamental problems," the Ham Lake Republican said.

Outgoing MNsure board Chairman Brian Beutner downplayed any concerns about that turnover, saying it was part of the growing pains of a new organization. He said incoming CEO Allison O'Toole, formerly the exchange's deputy director for external affairs, was the right fit to move the exchange forward.

Beutner said MNsure's board didn't lay out any timelines to search for a permanent replacement, noting those discussions wouldn't take place until the next scheduled board meeting on May 19 — a day after the Legislature's adjournment.

Republicans who control the House are charting drastic changes to MNsure this legislative session, including dismantling the exchange altogether and moving Minnesota to the federal marketplace by 2017. Senate Democrats are advancing a more modest plan to retool MNsure's governance that would make the quasi-private entity a full-blown state agency, abolishing its board and giving the governor power to appoint its commissioner.

Negotiations on those proposals are set to start this week. Asked whether the end result might eliminate MNsure's board, Beutner said: "I couldn't ever predict what the Legislature is going to do."


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