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Health Connector chief cites vendor for site woes

Jean Yang is the director of the Massachusetts Health Connector.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff/File

Jean Yang is the director of the Massachusetts Health Connector.

WASHINGTON — Appearing before a congressional oversight panel Thursday, Jean Yang, director of the Massachusetts Health Connector, blamed the failures of the state’s insurance website on CGI, the contractor the state recently dumped.

The IT vendor, combined with the shortcomings of project managers, “impeded our progress and full vision for the website,” Yang said during five minutes of prepared testimony.

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Yang was summoned to appear on a panel before two House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittees to explain the disastrous rollout of the state’s insurance website, along with her counterparts in Maryland, Oregon, and Minnesota, whose websites also faced significant technical problems.

The hearing was one of about two dozen similar hearings that have already been held on the launch of President Obama’s controversial health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act.

A CGI spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment to Yang’s remarks Thursday, but the company has said in the past that it will work with Massachusetts officials on a smooth transition to the insurance website’s next phase.

Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said at the opening of the hearing that the government has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars by doling out grants to individual states to build websites of varying quality that are supposed to be designed to do the same thing: sign Americans up for health insurance.

“To use a common platform would be common sense,” said Issa, calling the individual websites “unnecessary” and “redundant.” “It makes no sense to ask vendors to duplicate the software but bill us twice, three times, four times for simply reinventing it.”

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Massachusetts has received $179 million in federal grants to build its health insurance website and chose to use the same contractor responsible for the federal government’s failed website launch last October.

The White House said this week that more than 7.1 million Americans had signed up for health insurance by the end of March, the deadline for enrollment, exceeding its initial goal. The Massachusetts deadline has been extended until April 15 because of the state’s technical problems.

Massachusetts is still processing applications by hand because of the problems. When questioned by the panel, Yang said the state recently hired an additional 300 people to process applications during an intensive work period in the last four weeks.

Asked how much the extra staffing has cost, Yang said she did not know.

The panel spent much of the hearing, which lasted more than three hours, grilling a representative of the Maryland website. Maryland had hired an additional 200 individuals to help process applications.

Maryland said this week that it would upgrade its website using Connecticut’s successful version.

“This is a model that has proven very effective and allowed us to use something that works very well in time for the second enrollment period,” which begins in the fall, said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, chairman of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange Board.

Massachusetts, whose 2006 law served as the model for federal health reform, had previously received a $45 million federal innovation grant to develop a model website for the New England region. Upon its failure to deliver, Connecticut health officials are trying to collect a portion of the grant.

Massachusetts will not meet its goal of moving more than 200,000 people into insurance plans that comply with the federal law by the end of June, and state officials have asked the federal government for an extension until Sept. 30.

It has managed to enroll about 29,000 residents in unsubsidized coverage, 138,000 in temporary coverage, and another 114,000 in extended coverage since the October launch of its new website, with a significant number applying on paper, said a Connector spokesman Thursday.

“We are proud that we are achieving the fundamental goal of the Affordable Care Act, which is to expand coverage,” Yang said. “We are not panicked. We have gone through this before. . . . We need to identify the right vendor and put the right team in place and we can fix it.”

Tracy Jan can be reached at tjan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeTracyJan.

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