The state has temporarily put on hold efforts to fix its balky new health insurance website while it focuses on creating an offline system for processing applications for people who need coverage to start Jan. 1.
Massachusetts officials, exasperated by the slow pace of improvements, have also withheld payments in recent weeks to the contractor that built the system, CGI—the same company that was a major developer of the beleaguered federal insurance website.
Monday is the deadline to apply for health insurance through the Massachusetts Health Connector that would start next month. Executive Director Jean Yang said the first priority is creating a process to get people covered in time.
“Without that, I don’t think we can even talk about IT,” she said.
The Connector’s website, designed to allow consumers to compare health plans and determine eligibility for subsidies, has been troubled since it launched Oct. 1.
The site has locked users out of their accounts and delivered persistent error messages. Parts of the system designed to automatically determine applicants’ eligibility for tax credits and to deliver key information to insurers simply have not worked.
The website was down last week for fixes. But Yang said the updated version created by CGI was not ready and she feared it would create new problems in the days before the Dec. 23 application deadline, so it was not launched.
“There is no system improvement that we can speak to,” she said in an interview Thursday.
The state has paid about $11 million on a $69 million contract with CGI. Yang and her staff are expected to report to the Connector board next month about efforts to hold CGI accountable to its contract. A spokesman for CGI declined to comment for this story.
Linda Odorisio, vice president for communications, said in an e-mail that the company “remains focused on helping Massachusetts residents get insured” and that the Connector’s “complex program is allowing consumers to apply online for coverage thanks to an enormous team effort.”
Meanwhile, Yang said the Connector is developing ways to bypass failed components of the website.
About 104,000 people who were already enrolled in three subsidized insurance programs—the Connector’s Commonwealth Care, insurance for the unemployed, and the Insurance Partnership for small businesses—can keep their coverage through March, three months longer than the state originally planned.
But that extension doesn’t help those who don’t have a subsidy now and are applying for one, including people whose commercial plans expire this month or those who have been uninsured. For that group, the state is processing applications using a separate software tool and mailing notices with directions on how to select and pay for a plan—a process similar to what was done before the Connector website’s relaunch.
The site, originally created under the state’s 2006 health care law, had worked well, but was overhauled this year to comply with federal Affordable Care Act and to add features intended to streamline consumer’s insurance-shopping experience.
Not all applications will be processed in time for January coverage. Yang said the Connector has “a backup to the backup.” Remaining applicants for subsidized plans will be automatically enrolled in temporary coverage, likely through the Medicaid program, until they receive a notice from the state about their eligibility, which will include directions on how to select a plan for themselves. Yang said details will be mailed soon.
Invoices are being mailed to those who have completed applications for unsubsidized coverage. Once they pay their premium by check or automatic withdrawal from their bank account—no credit cards allowed—they will be fully enrolled.
The Connector also has created a separate process to transfer enrollee information to insurers by spreadsheet because the system for sending that data automatically is not working.
While not a single enrollment had been completed earlier this month, the Connector has seen some progress. As of Thursday, more than 42,000 applications had been submitted. The total number of enrollments was up to 309.