Massachusetts' Health Portal Progress 'Vastly Overstated'

Project leaders failed to hold vendor CGI accountable for “shoddy work” and missed deadlines, according to a report.

by Chris Cassidy, Boston Herald / May 11, 2015
The case could put two political allies in an awkward position, with the administration of President Obama investigating the inner workings of the administration of longtime friend former Gov. Deval Patrick (pictured). Flickr/Nathan Ouellette/Governor's Office
(TNS) -- Former Gov. Deval Patrick's administration may have exaggerated its progress in building Massachusetts' new Obamacare website  to avoid losing federal funds — and even tried to hide gaping holes in the Health Connector portal — according to a local think tank that has released a bombshell report.

The Pioneer Institute report contends the Patrick administration “vastly overstated” the progress in building the massive website to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and that project leaders failed to hold vendor CGI accountable for “shoddy work” and missed deadlines.

Citing internal documents and whistleblower accounts from former project officials at UMass Medical Center, who came forward in early 2014, Pioneer also sent its findings in an October 2014 letter to the head of the FBI and other federal watchdog agencies. One of the whistleblowers told the Herald he has already been questioned by the FBI.

“Although the state knew as early as September 2012 that the project was behind schedule and off track, the UMass Medical team chose to conceal CGI’s deficiencies rather than remedy them,” reads the report authored by health care expert Joshua Archambault of Pioneer. The “Commonwealth misrepresented the project’s progress, both in a March 2013 connectivity test with the Federal Data Services Hub, and in a May 2013 presentation to CMS.”

The October 2014 letter from Pioneer to the FBI claims “the Commonwealth appears to lie about progress on project to keep funds.”

The case could put two political allies in an awkward position, with the administration of President Obama investigating the inner workings of the administration of longtime friend former Gov. Deval Patrick. Patrick could not be reached for comment yesterday. His former secretary of Health and Human Services, John Polanowicz, declined to comment, saying he had not seen the report.

The report states that in a May 2013 presentation to CMS, the state team “made claims about the HIX project (the Obamacare website) that vastly overstated the amount of work that had been successfully completed.”

The state system was in such bad shape ahead of a critical test with the federal Obamacare portal that it tried to simply use free outside software — not developed by state officials — to quickly plug sections of the site and make it look completed, the report states.

One of the whistleblowers cited in the report, in an interview with the Herald, claimed he was fired by a supervisor in early 2013 after objecting to several time-saving shortcuts proposed by CGI.

“He pulled me into his office,” the whistleblower, who spoke to the Herald on condition of anonymity, said of the supervisor, “and said, ‘We have to let you go. It’s not my decision, but the opinion is you’re being too hard on CGI.’?”

The Department of Justice in January issued subpoenas for Health Connector documents dating back to 2010.

CGI said in a statement to the Herald that the problems leading up to the website were beyond the company’s control, but that it continued to help the state even after a new developer was brought in.

“CGI repeatedly warned the commonwealth regarding a number of the points raised in the Pioneer Institute’s report, including the facts that delays in critical decision-making, changing priorities, and a lack of technical requirements from the Connector threatened the goal of a successful launch on Oct. 1, 2013,” said CGI spokeswoman Linda Odorisio. “Despite these hurdles, CGI conducted itself professionally and ethically throughout the project, and unequivocally rejects any suggestion that it performed otherwise.”

UMass Medical Center said in a statement it “acted appropriately at all times during its work with the Connector. We have been assisting and fully cooperating with the Attorney General, the US Attorney and the EOHHS Office of Inspector General.”

Baker administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Guyton said, “When it comes to the Health Connector, the Baker-Polito administration’s sole focus is fixing the broken system it inherited so that people can access the health care they need. The administration is cooperating with the (Department of Justice) subpoena regarding the Health Connector’s difficulties dating back to 2010.”

The Pioneer Institute estimates the Health Connector website disaster ultimately will cost taxpayers $1 billion.

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