Yesterday Massachusetts officials announced plans to default to Healthcare.gov, but also announced a quixotic sprint to try first try to rebuild the entire site in five months with a brand new, no-bid taxpayer-paid contract to health care software developer hCentive. This move comes eight months into open enrollment, after launching the worst performing exchange in the country, spending most of the $180 million from Washington and announcing that original contractor CGI would be fired—even though it is still working on the project. The announcement should leave taxpayers and policymakers scratching their heads and wondering about the lack of accountability, government management and procurement.
A “Dual-Track” Strategy
Kyle Cheney at Politico broke the story:
Massachusetts is taking steps this week to scrap its dysfunctional health insurance exchange — the model for President Obama’s health care law — and merge with the federal enrollment site HealthCare.gov.
The decision is part of an expensive, two-pronged plan that also involves a last-ditch attempt to build a new state system.
Three sources with knowledge of the plan tell POLITICO that the state is set to announce the hiring of hCentive, a Virginia-based contractor that helped construct the Kentucky and Colorado exchanges. The company would then rush to build a state exchange in time for the next enrollment season, which begins Nov. 15.
But given the narrow time frame, officials also intend to begin the process of transitioning the Massachusetts exchange, known as the Connector, to HealthCare.gov.
It’s unclear what either option will cost the state or whether federal officials will cover that expense.
The last sentence should be enough to question the plan, but it has not stopped Massachusetts officials from moving full steam ahead before a vote of the governing Board of the Connector (expected to come on Thursday), or even obtaining a commitment from the federal government of the funds to do so. However, this same uncertainty didn’t stop Maryland from embarking on its own expensive journey to replace its failed ObamaCare website just a few weeks ago.
It should be noted, Massachusetts has a pending request to the federal government for another $50 million to pay for the services of consulting firm Optum through June.
In a press release put out yesterday, project lead Sarah Islein called Massachusetts’ plan a “dual-track strategy”; one discussed with federal officials in a meeting last week.
Their meeting came after a review by the consultant Optum indicated that most of the state’s earlier efforts to build an exchange were not salvageable, the sources said. They added that the state intends to retain Optum to help oversee hCentive’s efforts.
CMS, the federal agency that oversees HealthCare.gov, declined to comment Monday.
The decision to move to the federal exchange would represent a symbolic blow for local Obamacare supporters…
This, of course, is just the latest example of a blue-state with a failing ObamaCare exchange, as I wrote about the federal takeover of the Oregon exchange two weeks ago. It’s unclear why the same actions were not taken in Massachusetts, skipping the expensive Hail Mary attempt, as the website developed by CGI has been deemed non-functional by Optum and will be scrapped.
Bay State Lowers the Bar For Technical Expectations
Initially promising an innovative “Rolls Royce” of a website, this announcement marks a turning point for state officials. While spinning the decision as a good direction for the state, the reality is the bar has been lowered. The press release put it this way:
Through the hCentive solution, residents will be able to go online and apply for unsubsidized or subsidized insurance, learn what level of subsidy might be available and select a plan. The launch of an hCentive-based system will provide the end-to-end functionality required to support an ACA-compliant Marketplace, and will include minimal customization in vital areas such as State Wrap and billing. Over time, additional functionality can be added to improve the user experience and achieve the state’s long term vision for integrated eligibility.
Reading between the lines, it’s clear the state knows it failed, and its grand vision of a government-designed website with all the bells and whistle is unattainable. I guess we will have to settle for a functional one that costs taxpayers a total of $250 million?, $300 million? If that doesn’t work, perhaps the federal site will.