An executive from the largest Massachusetts health insurer has been chosen to oversee fixes to the state’s failed health insurance website, the Patrick administration is expected to announce soon, in a move that one health policy specialist said signals a recognition that the pace of repairs is too slow.
Sarah Iselin, who is chief strategy officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, will be charged with coordinating efforts among several state agencies and website developer CGI to get the site working again. Jean Yang, who will continue in her role as executive director of the Massachusetts Health Connector Authority, notified board members of the change this week.
The Connector’s online marketplace, the model for the insurance exchanges in the national Affordable Care Act, was working smoothly until last fall. But the new enrollment website, launched in October to comply with the federal law, has frustrated customers and required the state to move tens of thousands of people into temporary coverage because their applications could not be processed.
Board member Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who helped to write the 2006 state health care law that created the marketplace, said Iselin “has all the qualifications” to help get the program operating smoothly again.
She “is a real straight shooter,” Gruber said. Her leadership could be effective “if she is truly empowered by the governor to be truly in charge and everybody answers to her.”
It was not clear whether Iselin will take a leave from Blue Cross to take on the temporary post with the state, though that would probably be necessary to avoid conflicts.
A spokeswoman for the insurer declined to comment, and Iselin did not respond to requests for comment. The governor’s press office and a spokesman for the Connector did not return phone calls or e-mails Wednesday.
Iselin has broad experience in state health care policy. She worked at the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation on the group’s Roadmap to Coverage initiative, which included a public debate and a series of reports that laid the groundwork for the 2006 law.
Later, she became commissioner of the state Division of Health Care Finance and Policy, where she played a major role in implementing it.
Iselin returned to the foundation as its president from 2009 until she moved to her current role with the insurer in 2012.
John McDonough, a Harvard health policy professor who had a hand in crafting both the state and federal health care laws, has been critical of the state’s slow response to problems at the Connector.
“Clearly something is fundamentally wrong with this whole project,” he said in an interview. “There’s been a real management failure here, in addition to the contractor [CGI], and something needs to change.”
Connector leaders and the governor have repeatedly attributed problems with the website to CGI’s failures.
But state officials knew months before the launch that CGI was far behind schedule and had missed several deadlines.
McDonough took Iselin’s appointment as a sign of action.
“Whether it’s sufficient to address what’s going on, we’ll have to see what else is happening, and wait and see,” he said.
Yang said last week that the state had received a draft report from an independent contractor recommending a solution. The findings have not been made available to the public.
The Connector board is scheduled to meet at noon Thursday in Gardner Auditorium at the State House.