project risk management

Project Failures: Minnesota State’s MNsure System

May 9, 2016 by

2013 played host to many significant events. White smoke rose from the Vatican chimney as a new pope was elected,  social media giant Twitter went public in a much-watched IPO, and political legend, Nelson Mandela, sadly passed away at the ripe old age of 95.


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2013 also saw a major project failure in the form of President Obama’s website. The site experienced problems on its very first day. The system suffered from slow responses, access denied errors and other mysterious glitches that prevented some users from completing their transactions.

While this failed IT project made front page news and President Obama was forced to address the nation, the State of Minnesota experienced difficulties with their own health care website a few months later.


The MNsure System

The federal government decided to develop a bespoke health care market place system to
service the needs of the nation. Rather than avail of this option, the State of Minnesota decided to develop their own.

They chose a package provided by IBM 5339876b48f02.imagecalled the ‘Cúram Solution for Healthcare Reform’. A package specifically designed to help states implement the Affordable Care Act by giving them a base from which to work. Implementing this solution would bring the State of Minnesota into compliance with the ACA.

At the time, it seemed like a fantastic idea, with reduced effort and costs being two significant benefits. But, as you might have already guessed, all did not go according to plan.

Why MNsure Failed

Essentially, the Cúram Solution caused the failure of MNsure. System problems and glitches marred the project, and prevented Minnesotan’s from completing their on-site transactions. So much so that the governor of Minnesota sent a letter of complaint to the IBM CEO asking that immediate action be taken to rectify the problem.

In it, the Cúram product is the main focus.

“the Cúram product did not properly perform eligibility determinations or verify individuals’ application information, as required under federal law. The fact that this functionality was not working was known to Curam staff, but was not communicated to MNsure”.

After this letter was received, IBM responded swiftly and sent a team of specialists to deal with the issue.

The main contributing factors as reported in the press were:

  • Requirements management
  • Quality management
  • Communications.


Lessons Learned

As with any failed project, we should learn from its mishaps and try to improve our own projects as a result. Perhaps the main takeaway from this project is in relation to decision making.

If you are to integrate a new system, you should levitate towards proven products that have been used successfully elsewhere. The Cúram product was unproven at its time of implementation, and the State of Minnesota paid the price.

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Ruairi O'Donnellan

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