White Coat Notes

Tech firm hired to fast-track repairs to failed insurance website

The Massachusetts Health Connector, which runs the state’s failed health insurance website, is hiring technology firm Optum to a 30-day, $9.8 million contract to fast-track repairs, Governor Deval Patrick announced Thursday at a Beacon Hill news conference.

Optum, which is the same company that helped get the federal insurance website, healthcare.gov, back on track last fall, will bring in up to 300 people with insurance expertise to help Massachusetts residents get enrolled.

The state will continue working with CGI, the technology firm that built the online marketplace, but will keep the company on “a much shorter leash,” Patrick said.

Continue Reading Below

He also confirmed the appointment of insurance executive Sarah Iselin, who has experience in government and project management, to oversee the work to fix the site, as the Globe reported Thursday.

“The technology is fixable,” said Andy Slavitt, executive vice president of Optum. “There’s a lot to do and there are more resources that are going to be needed, but the right activities are underway, with Sarah’s leadership.”

Iselin is a former commissioner of the state Division of Health Care Finance and Policy, where she played a major role in implementing the state’s 2006 health law that created the insurance marketplace and expanded coverage in the state. Since 2012, she has been chief strategy officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the states largest insurer. Blue Cross Blue Shield said Iselin is taking a four-month unpaid leave from the company and will return in early June.

Patrick apologized to people who have been frustrated or confused by problems with the website and offered reassurances.

“Those who have coverage will not lose it,” he said, “and those who are seeking coverage will get it.”

The failure of the website, particularly functions that were supposed to automatically determine whether people qualified for government assistance in paying for coverage, has forced the state to move tens of thousands of people into temporary plans because their applications could not be processed or to keep them on state assistance programs that were supposed to end last week and that may not comply with the federal Affordable Care Act.

State officials planned to meet with federal officials Friday to ask for permission—in case the website is not fixed by April 1—to keep people on those plans beyond that date, when federal law requires most Americans to be enrolled in coverage that meets the federal standards.

Asked whether he wishes he had taken these steps sooner, Patrick said that the full extent of problems with the website was not clear until the end of November—though state officials knew months before the October launch of the website that CGI had repeatedly missed deadlines. He emphasized his disappointment in CGI and its failure to deliver on its contract with the state.

Independent technology firm MITRE, which was asked by the federal government to assess the state program to build the new website, cited significant problems in CGI’s structure and management of the website’s development, in a report released Thursday morning.

It found that the Commonwealth’s team, which included representatives from the Connector, MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, also performed poorly. “There does not appear to be a consistent, unified vision for the system nor clear lines of accountability for implementing the vision,” the report said.

The medical school, which had been managing the contract for the state, has been relieved of all duties related to the Connector, Patrick said.

Share