Topics: Obamacare

Canadian officials fired IT firm behind troubled Obamacare website

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Canadian provincial health officials last year fired the parent company of CGI Federal, the prime contractor for the problem-plagued Obamacare health exchange websites, the Washington Examiner has learned.

CGI Federal’s parent company, Montreal-based CGI Group, was officially terminated in September 2012 by an Ontario government health agency after the firm missed three years of deadlines and failed to deliver the province’s flagship online medical registry.

The online registry was supposed to be up and running by June 2011.

Officials at the U.S. government's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services awarded six technology contracts worth $87 million to CGI Federal for Obamacare website work, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The CMS officials refused to say if federal officials knew of its parent company’s IT failure in Canada when awarding the six contracts.

CGI Federal built Obamacare’s Healthcare.gov, which went live Oct. 1 but has since experienced multiple technical problems, including crashes, refusal to load and sign-on, or to provide accurate information.

Obamacare requires all Americans to register for health care coverage no later than six months from Oct. 1. Officials in the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services, which manages Obamacare, declined to say how many people succeeded in registering through Healthcare.gov.

CGI Federal also is the prime contractor for state health exchange websites in Colorado, Vermont, Hawaii and Massachusetts. Three of those states also reported significant website glitches.

In Hawaii, health exchange officials formally apologized for the inconvenience in delays and said they did not know when the site would be available.

Only Massachusetts, which has had a state health program in operation for seven years, reported no website problems.

The IT glitches were so acute across the nation that HHS shut down the site for weekend repairs Oct. 5-6, but the problems have persisted.

In Canada, eHealth, the Ontario provincial agency, scrapped its high-profile online medical registry for diabetes sufferers and treatment providers, and cancelled CGI Group’s $46.2 million contract, on Sept. 5, 2012. The company was 14 months behind schedule when it was given notice of termination by the Ontario government agency.

In the meantime, a group of other Ontario IT companies successfully replicated the registry, rendering CGI’s project obsolete.

Because the contract terms stipulated payment only upon delivery of a satisfactory final product, the province has refused to pay CGI.

CGI has not publicly discussed the eHealth failure, but has taken legal action, including filing a defamation suit against eHealth and the Toronto Star newspaper.

CGI has received bipartisan condemnation from Ontario government officials for its failure on the registry.

“They did not meet the requirements of their contract which was faced with many layers of delays, which caused great angst among the health care providers who are trying to do their best,” Frances Gélinas, a member of Ontario's provincial parliament, told the Washington Examiner.

“They basically said, ‘This is not working.’ CGI is not delivering what we need,” Gélinas said. Gélinas also serves as a health policy spokeswoman for the NDP, an opposition Canadian political party.

A knowledgeable official who requested anonymity said the CGI-eHealth controversy mainly stemmed from CGI’s failure to deliver its product on schedule.

“It basically boiled down to missed deadlines,” said the official. “CGI was contracted to build the diabetes registry in the province. They weren’t able to fulfill that commitment, and they weren’t able to meet guidelines to have a product up and running that physicians can use. It dragged on and on.”

“It was becoming an issue for the government in the sense that it was a prominent initiative of the government. Delay was causing some consternation and frustration,” the official said.

Nine thousand medical providers now use alternative online registries for Ontario’s estimated 40,000 diabetes patients. The province has certified 13 IT vendors, a number of which have sold and are maintaining the registries instead of CGI.

At the time, the Ontario health minister, Deb Matthews, told Canadian news organizations she was “enormously disappointed” by the CGI failure.

“They (CGI) were so late in delivering it, that our EMR (electronic medical records) providers here in the province expanded the scope and utility of their product and just rendered CGI’s technology irrelevant,” the source said.

Gélinas agreed. “The diabetes registry was conceived in concept almost four years ago. It may have had utility, had they been able to meet their deadlines. But what happened was that they just didn’t. The project dragged on,” she said.

CGI declined to comment on the eHealth controversy. Linda Odorisio, vice president for CGI’s global communications, said in an email that “discussions to resolve the issues between eHealth and CGI are ongoing. Both parties are bound by confidentiality agreements and we will not comment on the specifics of the matter while proceedings are underway.”

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