Policy: Technology

State reports progress in fixing health website

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News,Business,Obamacare,Health Care,Technology

BOSTON (AP) — Software ordered by Massachusetts to fix its hobbled health care exchange passed initial tests, renewing hopes that the state could finally have a fully operational website by year's end, officials said Thursday.

The breakdown dramatically slowed the state's transition to the federal Affordable Care Act from its own first-in-the-nation universal health insurance law that provided a model for President Barack Obama's plan.

Massachusetts severed ties earlier this year with the lead contractor on its health exchange, CGI Group, and has been forced to shuffle more than 200,000 of its residents into temporary Medicaid coverage.

In May, state officials unveiled a "dual-track" approach that called for buying software that has powered insurance marketplaces in other states while also laying the groundwork for a switchover to the federal government's health insurance market, should that be necessary.

Maydad Cohen, a special assistant to Gov. Deval Patrick, told the Massachusetts Health Connector board the hCentive software cleared several key tests after its initial release last month, prompting federal officials to authorize the state to continue pursuing its current strategy.

A final decision on whether to go forward with the hCentive solution is expected early next month following the rollout of an enhanced version of the program.

Cohen said the goal was a fully functional exchange before the next ACA enrollment period beginning Nov. 15.

"I don't know where we are going to be at open enrollment right now, but I am increasingly, cautiously optimistic about our ability to deliver the hCentive product," Cohen told reporters after briefing the board.

The total cost to taxpayers for the website breakdown remained unclear.

The state initially estimated the cost of the dual-track approach at $121 million. Officials said they would not be able to produce a final cost estimate until it finalized contract negotiations with Optum, a health care technology firm that was retained by the state

Cohen said state officials hope the federal government agrees to pay the full tab for repairs.

A separation agreement reached with CGI calls for paying the Montreal-based firm an additional $35 million on top of the $17 million the state already had paid toward an original $89 million contract.

The state also had paid out $138 million in fees for medical services through June 30 for the 237,000 residents forced into "provisional" Medicaid coverage because the connector was unable to determine their eligibility for ACA-compliant programs, Secretary of Administration and Finance Glen Shor said Thursday.

That total was before federal reimbursement, and Shor insisted the overall costs would not have been much higher had the state been able to enroll more people into permanent coverage. Officials remain confident that all residents will be moved off temporary coverage by next year.

Massachusetts has been given a waiver from most requirements of the federal law until Dec. 31.

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