Editorial: From pioneer to embarrassment on health insurance for Massachusetts

Last modified: Wednesday, February 26, 2014
We took pride when Massachusetts set a national model for access with its universal health care law in 2006. Now, the state must regain its pride of place as it only belately, and weakly, complies with the Affordable Care Act.

Gov. Deval Patrick admitted Friday there is “a tremendous amount of understandable anxiety” over Health Connector website. He promised that no one would fall through the cracks due to incompetent handling of this online service.

That’s nice, but the governor should be ashamed that the state’s website, like the national one, has been such a disaster. Rather than be a leader, Massachusetts is bringing up the rear on what should have been a straightforward process.

Patrick said it’s an open question whether the website is salvageable — or whether a “reset button” must be hit.

Computer malfunctions have left an estimated 50,000 applications from state residents trapped in a backlog, with people unsure if they’ve lost their insurance or are even registered. That’s dismal in the state that was such a pioneer.

Problems began cropping up late last year after the state hired CGI Group to create a new website to serve as a portal for re-enrolling residents into Affordable Care Act-compliant plans. CGI was also the top contractor on the troubled federal website.

The state has contracted with the health care technology firm Optum to the tune of $10 million to clean up the mess and to identify a permanent fix for the Massachusetts website. Of course, millions have already been paid to CGI despite its apparent incompetence.

Massachusetts has boasted of having a 97-percent coverage rate. State officials say the website glitches have not caused that percentage to fall substantially.

The governor’s admissions come as Republican lawmakers launch investigations into the failures of three of the nation’s state-run Obamacare exchanges: The healthcare websites in Oregon, Maryland and Massachusetts are all coming under scrutiny for functional failures and staggering costs that have left taxpayers footing the bill, according to reports.

Forbes Magazine recently ranked the state’s Obamacare website the worst-performing portal in the country. According to another report, the state has the worst enrollment percentage in the country.

It is so bad that the federal government has granted Massachusetts a three-month extension to meet the requirements of the act. The waiver from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services extends a March 31 deadline to June 30 and means that about 124,000 people previously enrolled in the state’s subsidized Commonwealth Care program will keep their coverage through the end of June.

The state has also developed a program to help the 32,000 people enrolled in non-subsidized plans to quickly enroll in new plans before their coverage ends next month.

State officials cite “significant progress” in signing up people for the act. They claim that in the last week, about 15,000 individuals and households successfully signed up for transitional coverage; another 7,000 electronic applications that had been entered into the system were found to be duplicates.

The clock is ticking on the Patrick administration to make things right.

By summer at the latest, the state must be able to provide a Health Connector website that works.

Citizens cannot be left in the lurch.