By Josh Archambault and Eric Dahlberg. This op-ed originally appeared in the Boston Herald on Nov. 7, 2014.
Our state health insurance exchange’s failed website will be one of the major headaches that Charlie Baker’s administration will inherit. Massachusetts’ first-in-the-nation Health Connector site, launched in 2006, has been out of service since Oct. 1, 2013, the now-infamous “go live” date for its Affordable Care Act successor. What an irony that the state exchange that served as inspiration for our federal health reform law has been rendered inoperable by that law’s implementation.
After over a year of taxpayer-funded rework, the Patrick administration has assured the public that the Connector will be up and running by Nov. 15, just in time for the next open enrollment crunch. Gov. Deval Patrick’s special assistant for project delivery, Maydad Cohen, promised in a recent opinion piece that the revamped Connector site “will work” on that critical date.
Let’s hope Cohen is right, but let’s also be realistic: Even if the site works on Nov. 15 the public’s loss of confidence in the Connector represents a huge challenge for the governor-elect. Here are five things that he can do to tackle the problem:
1. Support a full audit. Many important voices — including legislative leaders and the current state auditor — have called for a full accounting of the Connector’s finances. Baker should support such an audit, the complete results of which should be available to the public.
2. Deliver total transparency. Baker should commit to total transparency on all aspects of Connector finances and operations past, present, and future. Everything — board votes, meeting minutes, budgets, consulting contracts, staff salaries — should be available for public review in one user-friendly place online.
3. Examine return on investment every year. It is important for taxpayers that we continuously evaluate the effectiveness of programs and agencies. The Connector shouldn’t be an exception. If it is unable to add value to the marketplace, let’s consider further reforms or other options, such as defaulting to healthcare.gov.
4. Enlist the help of local tech talent. That Boston consistently ranks as one of the world’s most tech-savvy and innovative cities makes our state’s inability to run a working website doubly unacceptable. Baker should bring together some of our civic-minded local tech talent to collaborate with and advise Connector staff and board on an ongoing basis on how keep the site and its supporting systems running optimally.
5. Lead by example. Baker should push for reforms that empower members of his team and legislators to obtain their health insurance through the Connector. Nothing will send a clearer signal to taxpayers that the Connector is reliable than if state leaders themselves use the revamped site.
The original pre-Obamacare Connector earned recognition for facilitating access to insurance for Massachusetts residents. The next administration has a great opportunity to get things back on track.
Eric Dahlberg served on the staff of the Connector from 2006-2010. Josh Archambault is a senior fellow at Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank.