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Massachusetts Health Connector Moves Forward with 'Dual Track' Solution

The Connector announced it will hire hCentive to replace the scrapped state system while simultaneously working toward joining the federal in case that plan fails.

by Chris Cassidy, McClatchy News Service / May 6, 2014

People enrolled through the Massachusetts Health Connector could once again lose their health plans this year as insurance carriers struggle to comply with the state’s eleventh-hour “dual track” solution to rescue the woeful Obamacare health exchange, a professional association warns.

“The plans are being asked to build two separate systems,” Eric Linzer of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans told the Herald. “Building one new system was going to be challenging enough. It creates the prospect that plans currently on the Connector today may not be available because they may not be able to build some of this technology.”

The Connector announced yesterday it will simultaneously hire Virginia-based hCentive to replace the scrapped state system with its own off-the-shelf software, while working toward joining the federal in case that plan fails.

That means the insurance carriers will have to develop two separate systems — an unexpected strain on their resources that could drive some carriers away from the Connector entirely.

If that happens, people who signed up for those carriers’ plans through the Connector last year could lose them this fall, Linzer said.

“When you think about the spirit of the Affordable Care Act — that if you like your coverage, you get to keep your coverage — the prospect of losing plans from the Connector and the disruption it will cause members is significant,” Linzer said.

Spokesmen for both the Connector and hCentive wouldn’t say how much the solution will cost or if more federal funds are needed.

U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, blamed the state for wasting public money.

“Massachusetts’ decision to scrap its health exchange means Americans are once again out millions of dollars with nothing to show for it,” Issa said. “Federal taxpayers should not be on the hook for the additional costs to clean up this debacle.”

State Obamacare Web czar Sarah Iselin said, “I’ve said all along that no option on the table would be perfect, and the dual track certainly has its benefits and its challenges. It does, however, solve for two realities: We need a reliable website to help people during the next open enrollment period, and we need to be in a position to achieve a fully integrated system in 2015.”

But one Health Connector official speaking on condition of anonymity suggested the state’s rebuild plan is mainly a face-saving exercise to avoid the national embarrassment of a federal takeover.

“As the home of health-care reform, Massachusetts already has one black eye, but you don’t want two because you can’t stand up your own website,” said the official. “They will try everything they can to get the thing to work. What’s really tragic is we had a very well-functioning website. Lots of people were covered. And we’ve thrown the whole thing away.”

Joshua Archambault of the Pioneer Institute noted the state still hasn’t provided a full accounting of taxpayer money already spent.

“If this was the private sector, I think shareholders would cry bloody murder,” he said.

©2014 the Boston Herald

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