MA Health Website: $69m of lies and incompetence

Much attention has been paid to the massive problems in the federal website for the Affordable Care Act. But here in MA, we have had our own connector for several years. It was even more of a disaster than the federal site.

Today’s Boston Globe story, “State knew about troubles with health site” is an epic story of waste, lies, and lack of accountability. There has been no apology from our governor, no oversight from our legislature, no one interested in making sure that sick people could sign up for insurance. As an IT expert, a political activist, and someone who’s best friend got screwed by this disaster, I have a few things to say about this that you’re not going to get out of the opinion writers at the Boston Globe, who are more worried about the image of our state government than the welfare of my sick friend.
















When the new health care law passed, we were given $69 million by Washington – a phenomenal, unnecessary sum considering we already had an exchange site and organization in place. The state then hires CGI – the same vendor that couldn’t deliver on the federal site. (I have worked on enormous projects and would never have done that. Too many eggs in one basket! If anything went wrong, it would be hard to get rid of them as they owned both the federal services and our site that consumed them.)

The Globe reports today that the connector knew on July 1 the thing was not going to work. They already had a complete timeline of failures by the vendor at this point, which any competent IT manager would know meant they had no chance of success. (Nobody becomes a better vendor after months of failure inside a single project.) One of the biggest problems here is that no one overseeing this project had relevant IT experience! Here’s a choice quote from a Connector board member:

“The board is heavily focused on policy matters, such as the structure of the insurance market and costs to consumers, and members have little technology expertise.”

So let me get this straight: you’re going to spend $69 million in federal money, continue spending lots of state money on the connector (salaries, etc), and yet you have no relevant experience in the key area that will determine whether at least 250,000 people in this state keep their insurance? The person managing the contract is… a college professor. Outrageous! (But even that professor knew that things were far worse than others did, according to the story. Why didn’t he speak up!?!? He should have called The Globe.)

CGI, even in April, asked for a later deadline than October. (Holy Toledo! Asking for an extension six months out? Considering they were already being paid enough to hire an outside army of help if needed, this was what we in the business call, “A red flag.”) The state said no to the extension, because it would “have a major disruptive impact” on the plans for the federal health care law. Politics! The leadership should have seen at that moment it was time to hire someone else if it wanted to launch six months later! Why wasn’t the board informed? This development would have made news in The Globe had it been known.

So, in light of the severity of the problems months ahead of time, either Governor Patrick and the Connector Board members were lied to by the entire management team below them, or they knew and lied to the public about the problems. From today’s story: “Connector Board meeting minutes between July and October include no discussion of serious problems.” Absurd! The ship is taking on water. Everyone knows this. But the band plays on. (My guess is that they knew, left it out of the minutes to avoid a paper trail, but were privately assured that enough would be working that things would be OK on October 1.)

Oh – the Connector Board and Governor Patrick refused to talk to The Globe or anyone else about this failure. They have made no useful public statements and no one has been held accountable. Absolutely, positively, unacceptable.

The story does say at the end that some mysterious independent tech firm was brought in very recently to triage the situation. Who are they? How much is this costing? Is it federal or state money? Will we find out what is going on? Why are they keeping this information from the public? Where the hell is the transparency here?!

It’s time for some new management of our state government, especially with health care being a large part of the budget. It’s time for a man with executive experience in the world of health care. It’s time for a leader who gets that you have to have the right people, the right way of doing things, and a culture of accountability. It’s time for someone who would never have let this happen to my friend and 250,000 other citizens of Massachusetts.

It’s time for Charlie Baker.

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