SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Business

March 26, 2014

Bungling mars health care deadline

CARSON CITY, Nev. — As supporters of the federal health care reforms push for final signups, a handful of states, including Massachusetts, are trying to press the reset button.

They have botched their handling of the process so badly that they already are looking beyond Monday’s enrollment deadline to the next enrollment period starting in the fall.

Many states and the federal government experienced technical problems with the enrollment websites, but implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act has been a relative disaster in Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Vermont.

Rather than focusing on meeting enrollment targets, officials in those states find themselves consumed with replacing top officials, cancelling contracts with software companies, dealing with state or federal investigations, and spending tens of millions of dollars on fixes and new contractors. The core of the problem has been the difficulty in building an online health insurance marketplace that syncs up with myriad state and federal databases.

Early projections for those five states were to sign up a combined 800,000 Americans for private health insurance coverage by March 31, 11 percent of the Obama administration’s original target for national enrollment. Yet, with just days to go before the six-month enrollment period ends, achieving 25 percent of that target would be considered a success.

Overseers of Nevada Health Link have called that state’s program a “full failure” and a “catastrophe.” Some officials have suggested dumping Xerox, which was awarded a $75 million contract to develop the system.

While Xerox remains on the job, a state board earlier this month approved up to $1.5 million to hire another tech firm, Deloitte Consulting, to assess the Xerox system and recommend fixes.

Last month, Nevada officials cut their target enrollment from 118,000 to 50,000 and conceded that meeting even the lower goal would be a challenge. That drew the ire of board members, who lashed out about the thousands of people who will remain uninsured after Monday’s deadline.

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