By Michael Norton and Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON -- Gov. Deval Patrick responded Wednesday to a top Democrat and health care expert who this week sharply criticized the Patrick administration's management of the state's broken Massachusetts Health Connector insurance signup website.
Republican Party officials on Thursday circulated a boston.com "Health Stew" blog post by John McDonough that the former state representative and top aide to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy served up immediately after Gov. Deval Patrick's State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday.
In the post, McDonough wrote, "I was waiting to hear the Governor share with the Commonwealth his plans to get the Health Insurance Connector website working at an acceptable rate. It's nearly four months now since it's been officially and completely dysfunctional. And now we know that the Administration was warned of this impending calamity as early as last July. If there has not been a conspiracy of silence in leveling with the public about what's gone wrong and how it will be fixed, our responsible state officials, including Governor Patrick, are all doing a fine imitation of one."
McDonough described Patrick's brief call to fix the Connector site "unacceptable," adding, "I can't name a single Massachusetts official who is leveling with the public on this national embarrassment. From what I hear, second and third hand, four months into this disaster, the Patrick Administration has no plan."
>>> For video of Patrick's response to McDonough's criticism of the Connector, go to http://www.statehousenews.com/video/14-01-30gov/ <<<
Patrick said his administration would continue to deliver health care services to residents of Massachusetts, regardless of the status of the Connector's website.
"The folks who are worried about the website, yeah, it's concerning, but the website is not the main event and I've said that over and over again. People are not going to fall through any crack. They're going to be covered if what it takes to work around failings of our private vendor is to have people sit on folks front stoops with a clipboard and make sure they're signed up," Patrick said.
Frustrated by vendor CGI's failure to deliver a site that can facilitate from start to finish the enrollment process into plans that comply with the Affordable Care Act, Health Connector officials on Jan. 3 told their board that a "rapid assessment team" led by experts from MITRE had been brought it to assess the situation and was expected to complete its review by Jan. 17.
Health Connector spokesman Jason Lefferts said Thursday that authority officials do not have the MITRE report. He said there wasn't a "firm date" available regarding the timing of that report.
"Our first priority is to meet the primary goal of the Affordable Care Act by ensuring that everyone in Massachusetts has access to affordable healthcare coverage. Despite the website issues presented by an underperforming IT vendor, we have met that goal," Lefferts said in a statement. "Thousands of new people have signed up for unsubsidized coverage, and 26,000 new people now have access to subsidized health insurance. We have been clear that CGI will be held accountable for their failure to deliver on this project, and are committed to ensuring that these IT challenges are not a barrier to anyone gaining access to coverage."
The Connector Board's next scheduled meeting is Feb 13.
According to the agency, 124,000 residents with subsidized coverage under Commonwealth Care had their benefits extended through March 31 while officials work to enroll them in new plans.
Patrick administration officials said the governor has been briefed on what is expected to be contained in the final MITRE report, and Patrick said he has spoken with and plans to meet in the coming days with the "entity" that will oversee the fixing of mahealthconnector.org.
"We have a lot of confidence in them," Patrick said, declining to name the company.
A senior Patrick administration official said the governor's staff has meetings scheduled over the weekend and with Patrick on Sunday to discuss the next steps. They hope to have the MITRE report over the weekend and to announce a plan to address the website early next week.
"We will have a fix, but like I said, there's a whole lot of hype and a whole lot of interest, and understandably, about the website, but the website is not the main event. We're not going to let people slip through the cracks," Patrick said.
McDonough co-chaired the Legislature's Health Care Committee and also led Health Care for All. He concluded his blog post: "By federal stats, we're the worst in the nation in enrollment, number 50 out of 50. Other states -- Minnesota, Oregon, Maryland -- are facing their own website catastrophes. In those states, their Governors are out front offering explanations to their citizens. Massachusetts deserves better. And we deserve to hear it from the Governor. It should have been tonight. Now it should be tomorrow. Level with us."
The News Service reached out to three ranking members of the Health Care Financing Committee for this story but calls were not returned prior to deadline.