Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Steven Grossman today offered a sharp critique of the way Massachusetts has implemented President Obama’s health care law as well as the state’s dysfunctional online health insurance marketplace.
“Our implementation, the Connector,” the Democrat said at a breakfast forum, “it’s been a disaster, and I think people recognize that and it’s costing us a lot of money.”
Since the the state’s online health insurance marketplace was revamped last year to comply with the federal health care overhaul, it has not worked properly and left thousands of consumers frustrated and many without coverage for months.
“To me, it’s an embarrassment that Massachusetts, which is one of the world’s centers of technology and software, has been unable to develop a system that has worked, and worked effectively,” Grossman said. “And we’ve had these re-dos and re-dos, and they’re not working.”
The state announced earlier this month it planned to scrap the dysfunctional website and use a program used by other states to enroll residents in health insurance plans. Massachusetts said it was also preparing to temporarily join the federal marketplace in case the replacement system is not ready by Nov. 15, when most residents are set to begin being able to sign up for 2015 health insurance plans through the Massachusetts Health Connector.
Grossman was also critical of the state for not having an open bidding process to determine what company would get the contract to craft the replacement system.
The state is using emergency procurement rules to buy a replacement program from a company called hCentive that is used by some other states for their health care exchanges. That is being done through a contract with Optum, a company the state hired earlier this year to try to fix the balky website. There was no competitive bidding that would have allowed other companies to vie for the contract.
“I would have gone the procurement route. I don’t think no-bid contracts are a good thing,” he said.
Speaking to a reporter after the event, Grossman said an open procurement process gives taxpayers the sense that their money is being properly spent.
“It would reassure the public that when you’re spending tens or hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayer dollars that it’s being done in a way that passes muster,” he said.
Bill Oates, the state’s chief information officer, defended the process, given the time constraints.
“Our goal is to get the best deal and spend the Commonwealth’s funds in the best way possible,” he said in a telephone interview. “The path that we’re on is…the best way to deliver a solution this fall.”
He said among the options available, the no-bid contract with Optum is “clearly the best way to deliver the capabilities we need to deliver by this November.”
At the forum, in response to a follow-up question, Grossman said he did not support Massachusetts asking for a full waiver from the Affordable Care Act, something Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker has repeatedly done.
The session was held at University of Massachusetts Club in downtown Boston and was sponsored by the public relations firm Denterlein, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and NAIOP Massachusetts, the commercial real estate development association.
Grossman is one of five Democrats running to succeed Governor Deval Patrick. Baker, another Republican, a Libertarian, and three independent candidates are also running.Joshua Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.