Health Connector Hearing Today @10am: Answers Needed!

After months of wasted millions, government incompetence, and hundreds of thousands of people with medical problems victimized by a broken system, accountability begins today. Yes, a previously obscure Beacon Hill joint legislative committee, the “Joint Committee on Health Financing” (link here) will take center stage at 10 a.m. Since no one in the executive branch is interested in holding anyone accountable, it is going to have to be our legislators. And frankly, since the Committee Chairman, Senator Welch, made this overdue oversight sound like a friendly chat (see end of this story), it is going to have to be the Republicans that demand answers.

Who are these Republicans? Senator Bruce Tarr, and Representatives Jay Barrows and Leah Cole.  What should they be asking?

Well, for starters, they could read the independent report generated by MITRE. It’s damning, yet these kinds of things, in my experience, never show the full picture.

As I have followed this situation closely, and am both someone who has used the connector websites and is an IT expert, I am going to provide a list of things that should be asked. We don’t know nearly enough about this disaster, but at least the Boston Globe and Boston Herald have finally gotten on the case (all links below).

(Some of this stuff involves my opinion as a software executive who has worked on many large software development projects in the public and private sector. Feel free to quote me on this stuff. I will testify if anyone wants.)

Questions to be Asked!

  • How much federal money and ongoing state connector funding has been spent so far? (Globe says $15 million to CGI paid so far.)
  • The ongoing failure of the site has been mitigated by adding an enormous number of customer service representatives to take many thousands of calls. What have all these extra people cost?
  • According to the Boston Globe, no one on the connector board or overseeing the project had relevant technology experience. How could that be? The MITRE report describes technical failings that are inexcusable and the work of amateurs who had no business working on this kind of project. How would you have known this was happening? Did you reach out to other technical experts in the government? The private sector?
  • It is clear from the newspaper accounts and the MITRE report that the vendor was never making deadlines and was never doing things well from a technical standpoint. There were many months notice of the problems. Since they told you they couldn’t deliver several months in advance, why didn’t you sound the alarm and get more help?
  • The people of this state were in the dark about this project and its problems for months ahead of the launch date. Why was there no transparency? A report like the one MITRE did, six months ago, would have shocked the senses of people that understood software and resulted in a course correction. Why didn’t the vendor telling you that it couldn’t deliver in July result in an audit like the one MITRE just did?
  • The vendor hired to fix the problems, Optum, has received a $9.8 million project for 30 days. According to the Boston Globe, 300 people will work on it for a month at a cost of $326,000 per day!? The blended rate per hour – way above any reasonable hourly industry rate – is outrageous. (Would you really pay people $125 per hour to enter paper forms into computers?) Who signed off on this? Was there a competitive bidding process? Optum surely said that only they could fix this because of their experience at the federal level. Did anyone validate that claim?
  • The New York Times reports that AG Martha Coakley is considering suing the primary contractor, CGI, for its lack of performance. Are you supporting this effort?
  • What consequences will there be for the Connector Board? This disaster wasted millions of federal and state money. Sick people were harmed by this. It was entirely preventable at many moments throughout the past year. It embarrassed Massachusetts in front of the entire nation, and has been the subject of national media coverage. How can no one be responsible for this?

I could list lots of ideas to reform how Massachusetts handles IT, but the point of today’s hearing is not reform, but accountability. We need to know who knew what when and why nothing was done to stop this preventable disaster which has caused an awful hassle for hundreds of thousands of people, and real hardship for an unknown number of people who couldn’t receive the care they needed because of the problems. It is unacceptable and I demand that our legislators say so! The bland assurances of the Governor are incredible and even the Senate President told the Boston Globe that she doesn’t believe him.

Time for some accountability! Go get ’em Bruce, Leah, and Jay!

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