Governor: MNsure phone system flooded by fake calls in apparent sabotage

Trouble struck on the first day of open enrollment for health insurance on the MNsure marketplace. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says someone was trying to jam the telephone system with robocalls. On top of that, a statewide IT crash shut down and 70 other state websites for more about 30 minutes.

“Somebody is trying to jam the call center and making robocalls to snafu the thing, which is deplorable,” the governor said.

By mid-afternoon, state IT managers were still tracing the source.

“We just see an inconsistent number of calls from certain numbers and so they are tracking down that now and seeing what’s happening at those current locations,” said Scott Peterson of Minnesota IT Services.

The call disruptions were separate from a complete shutdown of 70 state websites. The state does not consider it a malicious attack, but it forced the redirecting of the MNsure internet homepage to a sign-in page for insurance customers to open accounts.

All of the technical problems took place as House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) met with Gov. Dayton about his premium rebate plan and other fixes for skyrocketing individual insurance rates.

“We agree that folks are going to need some help and going to agree to be part of the solution,” Daudt said.

But the immediate crisis is getting customers signed up, either online or with help on the phone. MNsure CEO Allison O’Toole said the frustration is loud and clear.

“What I will say to them is, ‘Be patient, we will get to you.’ We have not hit caps yet, there is time,” O’Toole said. “It is the first day in a three month open enrollment period.” 

By mid-afternoon, more than 15,000 health insurance applications were started – a tenfold increase over last year’s opening day. MNsure reported 3,400 people purchased policies online.

Last week, Gov. Dayton proposed a plan that would provide Minnesotans facing rising health insurance premiums with a 25 percent monthly rebate. The governor wants to use about $313 million in rainy day funds to offset the soaring premiums, then focus on long-term fixes in the next legislative session.

Speaker Daudt wouldn’t endorse the governor’s plan, but said Republican leaders are in favor of any kind of help for Minnesotans.

On Friday, the Commerce Department applied for a waiver to extend the open enrollment period by one month. House Republicans also want the state to apply for a waiver of the federal tax penalty for someone that doesn’t buy a qualifying health plan.