The Associated Press

Mass. Health Website Not Expected To Hurt State Funds

BOSTON — The breakdown of Massachusetts’ health exchange website was not expected to have a significant impact on the state’s current finances, a top state official told lawmakers Tuesday, but stopped short of giving similar assurances for the future.

The website glitches forced the health connector to rely on balky manual workarounds and dramatically slowed the state’s transition from its own first-in-the-nation universal health care program to the requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act.

The website problems forced the state to create alternative methods for ensuring that residents enrolled in subsidized insurance programs continued to receive coverage, said Secretary of Administration and Finance Glen Shor, testifying before the Legislature’s Health Care Financing committee.

“Nonetheless, based on reasonably conservative projections, we do not believe that they pose fiscal challenges” to Massachusetts in the budget year that ends June 30, Shor said.

The state has been paying about $10 million per month since January to temporarily maintain its Commonwealth Care program for residents, which is not compliant with the federal law, Shor said.

The connector has been able to use other revenues to offset the additional costs, he said, but those revenues will not be available in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Massachusetts has additionally paid $24 million in claims for some 160,000 people who have been placed into temporary Medicaid coverage while the state attempts to determine their eligibility for other forms of coverage, Shor said.

The hearing was mostly cordial, in sharp contrast to the tense and sometimes angry tone of a meeting the same committee held in February, when lawmakers vented their frustration over the technical failures and admonished Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration for what they saw as a lack of communication with the public.

“I know it is not for a lack of effort that we have run into problems in Massachusetts,” the committee’s co-chairman, Sen. James Welch, D-West Springfield, told connector officials at the outset of Tuesday’s hearing.

Sarah Iselin, an executive of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts who was appointed by Patrick to oversee a permanent fix for the website, said the state would unveil a plan next month that could include a new vendor to rebuild the site or the purchase of software from a state with a smoothly functioning exchange.

Massachusetts announced last month it was dropping CGI Group, the company that had also been the lead contractor for the federal health care website that ran into early difficulties. The state has paid CGI $17.3 million out of an original $69 million contract, and Iselin said “very delicate and sensitive” negotiations were ongoing with the company over the contract termination.

Shor noted that the state has received $174 million in federal funds for its health exchange, $117 million of which remains unspent.

The state is seeking additional federal funds to cover services from Optum, a health care technology firm, which had been paid $16 million through March to help facilitate short- and long-term solutions for the website.

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