MA Health Connector Dwindles Backlog; Website Work Remains

Mar 7, 2014


Massachusetts continues to address problems with its health insurance website after a sluggish October launch.

It’s been nearly a month since Governor Deval Patrick tapped Blue Cross Blue Shield executive Sarah Iselin to be the point person in fixing the Massachusetts Health Connector. Iselin quickly secured a three-month extension from the federal government to meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. The state had asked for six months of additional time beyond the original March 31 deadline. Now Iselin is reporting progress on the Connector’s backlog of paper applications as the website’s functionality for those seeking subsidized coverage has lagged.

“There was a total application backlog of 72,000. 50,000 of those applications were on paper,” Iselin said. “22,000 of them were waiting in an electronic queue to get processed. As of today (March 7) that total backlog is at 43,000.”

Speaking Friday, Iselin says the office receives 2,000 applications a day, half being mailed in. She adds application process time has dropped from two hours to 33 minutes, allowing the office placed in transitional coverage. That segment now totals 62,000 while the state works to match the 97 percent of its citizens with health insurance to plans that comply with the federal Affordable Care Act.

“Part of the reason that we’re in the position we’re in is while we basically have end to end functionality for people pursuing unsubsidized insurance, all that we’re really doing on our website for people seeking subsidizes is having the ability to take in an application electronically,” Iselin explained. “That’s it.”

The early February shake-up included signing the technology firm Optum to a one-month contract not to exceed $9.8 million, which Iselin says she expects the firm to comfortably adhere to. She adds the state is still working on the total costs of the manual workarounds as its call center staff now numbers 244 workers, after having just 70 when the site launched October 1. Jean Yang heads the Health Connector. She says the site ran smoothly with anticipated glitches the first few weeks, but more serious issues arose in November and piled up without being addressed. She adds the state knew that eligibility determination wouldn’t be ready until November based on what was provided by the contracted vendor, CGI.

“Obviously we were under a lot of pressure to make functionality available to meet open enrollment requirements, but at the same time we realized that there were problems,” Yang said. “Towards the end of 2013 it became very obvious to us that we needed a more fundamental solution and that led to the steps that we took.”

Iselin says the state is considering four long-term options for its website: to continue working with CGI; bring in a new IT vendor; leverage or lease website parts successfully functioning on the federal or other state sites; or completely start over. She says the Connector is unsure when the program determination tool will be ready, something she calls the heart and engine of the website. The tool allows people to see which of the more than 260 categories of subsidized coverage they are eligible for.

“This one, we’re just not comfortable with how far along it is to be able to use it which is what we would need to use to transition people out of transitional coverage,” said Iselin.

So far, Massachusetts has paid $15 million of its $69 million deliverable-based contract with CGI, a company that was also a contractor for the problem-plagued federal website.