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Patrick takes Massachusetts healthcare website in new direction

 

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced Thursday he hired a new company called Optum to address ongoing problems with the state’s Health Connector website. PHOTO BY SPENCER CRISPINO/GOVERNOR’S OFFICE

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced Thursday he hired a new company called Optum to address ongoing problems with the state’s Health Connector website. PHOTO BY SPENCER CRISPINO/GOVERNOR’S OFFICE

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick apologized for the inconveniences caused by glitches in the Massachusetts Health Connector healthcare website after working with MITRE Corporation, an independent technology firm.

At the Thursday press conference, Patrick announced the disbandment of the CGI Steering Committee, the vendor that created the system. Sarah Iselin, on temporary leave from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, will step in as the temporary Special Assistant to the Governor for Project Delivery.

“She will ensure unified execution across all state agencies involved so that we have a plan to achieve the best and most convenient shopping and coverage experience for all the people who use the website,” Patrick said at the press conference. “To be clear, she is not taking over day-to-day or program operations at the Connector or MassHealth; her job is to help us fix the website.”

Iselin said her first step will be to prioritize the changes that need to be made, but she is looking forward to creating an efficient system that will function without glitches.

“I care deeply about ensuring the most vulnerable among us have access to care and have devoted much of my career to standing coverage and understanding the profound consequences of un-insurance,” she said. “I’m committing to all of you today that on a go-forward basis we’ll be holding weekly briefings in which we’ll be sharing with you information about the progress we’re making.”

The Commonwealth has also partnered with Optum, a company based in Minnesota, which helped to fix the glitches with the federal healthcare system. Optum will coordinate efforts to fix the website’s system, a job Patrick determined CGI could not complete alone.

Jason Lefferts, director of communications at Massachusetts Health Connector, said the collaboration with Iselin and Optum will correct the faults in CGI’s program and create a website that will work better for Massachusetts residents.

“As the governor put it yesterday, if CGI was a properly working vendor, it would have been a perfectly fine setup, but this is a vendor that needs a shorter leash,” he said. “The website has certainly not lived up to our standards and it’s not what residents deserve, so the next steps that were outlined [Thursday] are going to help us get there.”

Several residents said the website’s faults have been holding the state back from creating accessible healthcare for all residents.

Vashawnda Brown, 24, of Brighton, said Massachusetts should be creating a healthcare website that is easy for anyone to access because healthcare needs to be readily accessible for anyone who needs it.

“In case I get sick or my daughter gets sick, I need to easily be able to go to the hospital,” she said. “Everybody needs to be seen if they’re sick.”

Zach Amendola, 27, of Back Bay, said the glitches in the website need to be resolved because an online system will make the entire process of applying for healthcare easier.

“It will be readily available, not having to sit on the phone with any company,” he said. “It will be a healthcare plan that’s just very easy to sign up with, easy to navigate, easy to find out what the co-pays are, what your insurance covers and what it doesn’t. [Because it’s all in one place], you won’t have to sit around reading all the pamphlets you get in the mail.”

Daniel Conroy, 23, of Boston, said the website should be representative of Massachusetts’ commitment to healthcare accessibility.

“Especially since Massachusetts was the pioneer of a more public healthcare system and access to it through an online portal, that’s the interface that makes the whole program successful,” he said. “So if the website isn’t a success or just generally an accessible portal to access healthcare, that makes the entire program as a whole fail.”

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