December 27 2013
The Domino Effect
Patrice J. Lee
Healthcare.gov is not the only website causing the Administration headaches. State websites are struggling to enroll citizens into their state-run ObamaCare exchanges due in no small part to their own website glitches.
Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., have built their own health insurance exchanges, while 36 states use the federal portal. California and New York are two states with their own online marketplaces that appear to be working smoothly, but they are not the norm. These malfunctions don’t bode well for the ObamaCare.
While the U.S. site has seen volumes surge this month, online exchanges run by those two states, along with systems in Massachusetts, Oregon, Minnesota and Vermont, have struggled with technology delays and low sign-up levels. Massachusetts and Vermont have criticized the work of their lead contractor, Montreal-based CGI Group Inc. (GIB) Exchanges in the other four states have each replaced their top executives in the past month.
The stumbles threaten to undercut one of the few arguments favoring President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul so far: its relatively smooth rollout in states that set up their own enrollment systems. While states such as California and New York remain bright spots, the administration can’t afford many more setbacks in the fight over the law.
“Some of these states have been committed, but it’s just been hurdle after hurdle after hurdle,” said Heather Howard, program director at the State Health Reform Assistance Network, a Princeton, New Jersey-based group advising state exchanges. “I do think those states will get there, but this is an ambitious undertaking in the best of cases.”
The Obama administration will “continue to work closely with all state-based marketplaces to support their work,” said Dori Salcido, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. The agency is sharing “best practices so that citizens of every state have access to affordable coverage options.”
The common thread for two of the states struggling with website woes begins with three familiar letters: CGI. That’s right, embattled government IT contractor CGI Federal appears to be the mastermind behind many of these “high performing” state exchange websites.
As we know CGI Federal is the main contractor behind the healthcare.gov website. That they have failed to deliver functioning websites for Vermont and Massachusetts, which already had a functioning online enrollment website, demonstrates their complete ineptitude.
If you’re not already laughing—or crying—this ought to tickle your fancy. Health and Human Services claims to be working on best practices across the states. Here are a few items that should be on their list: Check the references of (IT) contractors before contracting them, set deadlines and stick to them, check the backgrounds and collect references for workers that will have access to the private information of Americans (i.e. navigators), and don’t launch a major website until you’ve built all of the necessary functionality (not just the homepage) and delivered months of successful testing. In addition, HHS should take a page out of the books of several states that have allowed those who presided over their disastrous exchanges to spend more time with their families and re-evaluate the employment status of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Sebelius, who presided over a national fiasco, survives while Minnesota’s exchange director resigned last week and Maryland’s exchange director resigned earlier this month. Hawaii’s executive director took responsibility for the state’s poor performance and stepped down. Oregon’s agency director remains on a medical leave.
At the end of the day, there are problems with ObamaCare that a functioning website will not fix.