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Press Release: Whistleblowers’ Behind-the-Scenes Account of Health Connector Meltdown

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UPDATE: Read news coverage of this report in The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, MassLive,  WBUR‘s RadioBoston, State House News ServiceWRKO’s Howie Carr Show, NECN’s “Broadside.” and in a nationally syndicated column by Michelle Malkin.

New Study Details Whistleblowers’ Behind-the-Scenes Account of Connector Meltdown that Has Led to U.S. Attorney Subpoena

Project leaders failed to hold contractor accountable for shoddy work, and misled federal government and other stakeholders

BOSTON – State officials knew that development of a federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) website was off track for more than a year before the October 1, 2013 launch date.  Instead of raising concerns about the project, they misled the public by minimizing the shortcomings of the contractor hired to build the website, asked state workers to approve shoddy work and appear to have covered up the project’s abysmal progress in a presentation to federal officials, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

“The price tag for the failed rollout of Massachusetts’ ACA Health Insurance Exchange website is $1 billion and climbing,” said Pioneer Institute Senior Fellow in Healthcare Josh Archambault, the author of “Whistleblowers Expose the Massachusetts Connector.”

“Citizens should demand accountability of public officials that left us with this mess, and try to prevent this from becoming an IT version of the Big Dig.”

Based on publicly available third-party audits and hours of interviews with multiple whistleblowers with first-hand knowledge of the project, Archambault concludes that the commonwealth’s project team, which was headed by University of Massachusetts Medical School contractors and included officials from the Commonwealth Connector Authority and MassHealth:

  • Failed to execute a contract with CGI, the vendor hired to build the site, that would track the progress of the project and ensure on-time delivery of a product that included all required features;
  • Failed to commit sufficient resources to the project, resulting in workers sending documents to their home computers to open them, and to demand that CGI commit the additional resources necessary to complete the job on time, at an acceptable level of quality;
  • Repeatedly failed to hold CGI accountable for shoddy work, and for missing required deadlines, often pushing technical staff to approve faulty results, and firing at least one for refusing;
  • Failed to implement a governance structure that would ensure ongoing quality of the project, as CGI dealt with at least three competing visions for the website;
  • Exerted insufficient leadership, leading to glaring communications gaps both among state stakeholders and between the Commonwealth and CGI, with key officials regularly skipping meetings, and failing to take any minutes when meetings did take place causing basic decisions to be relitigated repeatedly;
  • Attempted to conceal these shortcomings by misrepresenting the progress of the health insurance exchange to a number of stakeholders including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; the Massachusetts Health Connector Board of Directors, the media and the public.

Just a small number of features were completed in time for the October 1, 2013 launch of the health insurance exchange website.  The only consumers who would be able to enroll in a health plan were those not seeking subsidies.  Despite the stripped-down nature of the site, testing completed just before the launch revealed a 90 percent failure rate.

As a result of the failed website more than 325,000 Massachusetts residents were placed in a transitional Medicaid program without any eligibility determination and tens of thousands of applicants for health insurance found themselves in danger of losing coverage altogether.

The impact on the integrity of the state’s Medicaid program and the state budget has been enormous and is still not fully understood.

“The sad tale of the Connector revamp after the passage of the Affordable Care Act is not just another poorly procured and managed IT project,” says Jim Stergios, Executive Director of Pioneer Institute. “Its implications touch on the governance of state IT projects and potentially on fraudulent actions by state officials.”

Archambault also finds that the commonwealth may have illegally paid CGI more than $50 million for work the company never completed.

About the Author

Josh Archambault is a Senior Fellow at Pioneer Institute. Prior to joining Pioneer, Josh was selected as a Health Policy Fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. In the past, Josh served as a Legislative Director in the Massachusetts State Senate and as Senior Legislative Aide in the Governor’s Office of Legislative Affairs. His work has appeared or been cited in outlets such as USA Today, Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fox News, NPR, Boston Herald and The Boston Globe. He is the editor and coauthor of The Great Experiment: The States, The Feds, and Your Healthcare. Josh holds a Masters in Public Policy from Har­vard University’s Kennedy School and a BA in Political Studies and Economics from Gordon College.

About Pioneer

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.