Infighting among top Patrick administration officials and an obsession with building “the absolute Rolls-Royce of any health exchange” helped doom Massachusetts’ $69 million Obamacare website, which was plagued by disastrous delays as far back as March 2012, according to new documents obtained by the Herald and interviews with project staffers.
The stunning revelations show how state officials canceled meetings, accepted project delays early on and agonized over decisions — sometimes forcing Gov. Deval Patrick’s Cabinet secretaries “to duke it out because people couldn’t get any decisions made,” according to a person with knowledge of the project.
The delays started right out of the gate. The state originally planned for website construction to start in March 2012, but didn’t even ink a contract with Canadian developer CGI until July 2012.
One month later, state officials made clear to CGI they wanted to build “the absolute Rolls-Royce of any health exchange,” the person close to the project said.
One change in CGI’s marching orders “has inserted a six-week delay in the schedule,” according to the company’s August 2012 work change request.
Meanwhile, infighting between MassHealth and Commonwealth Connector Authority officials became so intense that the state asked CGI to hold separate meetings with them, according to the document.
Meetings on just one component of the site were delayed between October 2012 and the following January because MassHealth and the Connector “had differing views about the content made available,” according to a February 2013 work change request.
Delays created by duplicate meetings mounted as the state put off important decision-making. In one case, CGI reported that 80 action items in November 2012 were overdue for the state’s response, one document states.
One MassHealth official complained of “too many meetings on everyone’s calendar and requested to slow down the scheduling of meetings,” according to a work change request.
CGI warned “the uncertainty of (Connector) policies has caused delay” and that scheduling meetings with state officials on one particular project component has been “challenging,” noting MassHealth and Connector officials canceled meetings on Dec. 7, 12, and 14, 2012, and Jan. 16, 18 and 23, 2013.
The breaking point came that January — some nine months before the site launched — when state officials first realized “that not all page functionality could occur by Oct. 1, 2013.” Nonetheless, the state recommended “to defer functionality for post-Oct. 1, 2013, delivery,” according to the change order.
When the site went live on Oct. 1, chaos and confusion ensued. The Herald reported at the time that Bay Staters complained of long delays, freezes and bizarre error messages.
Nonetheless, Patrick told reporters Nov. 14 that the site “gets better every day.”
Behind the scenes, however, state officials knew they had failed.
The Herald reported yesterday that Connector board member Jonathan Gruber conceded in a recent private email that Connector brass were “falling down on our jobs” overseeing the website and too concerned about projecting “a harmonious image.”
Last Thursday, Patrick admitted too many state agencies had been involved and announced the hiring of Sarah Iselin of Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Minnesota-based Optum to rescue the site.
Connector spokesman Jason Lefferts said in a statement yesterday: “We are taking the necessary steps to get the project back on the right track.”
CGI, meanwhile, said, “The experience of exchanges across the country has shown that strong and effective partnerships between the states and their IT partners can result in successful implementations, such as those in Colorado, Kentucky and California.”
©2014 the Boston Herald