BOSTON State lawmakers voiced anger Wednesday with the failure of the state’s health care connector website and frustration with the administration’s response to the breakdown, even as they were told a permanent fix may still be months away.
The problems have prevented thousands of Massachusetts residents from transitioning their insurance plans to the requirements of the federal health care law and proved an embarrassment in a state that has proudly championed its first-in-the-nation universal health insurance law, one that become a model for the federal Affordable Care Act.
“What do I tell a constituent who calls and says, `I submitted everything. My checks have been cashed. I have no ID card and my doctor won’t see my sick child?”‘ asked Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield, at an oversight hearing of the Legislature’s Health Care Financing Committee. “What do I tell them?”
Sarah Iselin, a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts executive hired last week by Gov. Deval Patrick to coordinate a plan for fixing the website, said teams were working around the clock but could offer lawmakers few reassurances that a solution was near.
“Today, the website is still not working properly, and as more people need to update their coverage, the current system cannot handle the increased demand we anticipate,” said Iselin.
The problems began last year after the state’s health care connector hired CGI Group to create a new website to serve as a portal for reenrolling residents – most of whom who already had insurance – into ACA-compliant plans. CGI was also the top contractor on the troubled federal website.
Connector officials say that while they have successfully moved about 30,000 people into subsidized health plans, more than 100,000 others who had to reapply have been unable to complete their applications – leaving many confused and anxious about whether they’re currently covered or have access to medical care.
“We have let people fall through the cracks and it’s not acceptable,” said Rep. Marjorie Decker, D-Cambridge.
Iselin said the state asked federal officials last week for a six-month extension of the March 31 deadline for completing the enrollment process, though she added it was unlikely Massachusetts would get more than three months of additional time.
While the state has laid most of the blame at the feet of CGI, several legislators said they also felt the administration had been slow to respond to or acknowledge the magnitude of the crisis. Some, including Rep. Jennifer Benson, D-Lunenburg, expressed dismay that neither the governor nor top administration officials appeared before the committee on Wednesday.
“I will be frank. His (Patrick’s) public comments on this in the past have been dismissive,” Benson said.
In comments to reporters later Wednesday, Patrick said the state was focused on making sure that no one would go without health coverage and indicated he would be willing to testify before the panel, if asked.
“Most of these legislators know that my door is open to them, my phone line is open to them … and I’m not going to politicize an issue that has been a real challenge for all of us.”
Iselin told lawmakers CGI was being responsive and sending its “A team” to Massachusetts to work on the website, drawing a somewhat sarcastic response from the committee’s chairman, Sen. James Welch.
“If they brought in their A team now, what did we have before?” asked Welch, D-West Springfield.
Patrick announced last week that the state was contracting with Optum, a health care technology firm that worked on fixing the federal website, to provide technical assistance to the state.