fb-pixelReport alleges cover-up of impending Health Connector failure - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Report alleges cover-up of impending Health Connector failure

A report scheduled for release Monday by a conservative-leaning think tank accuses state officials of misleading the federal government and the public about the Massachusetts Health Connector’s readiness to launch its new website in October 2013.

The report from the Pioneer Institute draws on public audit reports and interviews with anonymous people described as “whistle-blowers” to detail what they characterize as a bungled effort by the University of Massachusetts Medical School, software developer CGI, and the Connector to upgrade the Connector’s software in 2012 and 2013.

The Connector — designed to link people with health insurance when they don’t have another source — eventually ended its relationships with UMass and CGI.

Advertisement



Asserting that state officials knew at least a year ahead of time that website development was off track, the report describes two communications with the federal government in March and May 2013 in which state officials allegedly covered up the site’s poor condition.

Joshua Archambault, a senior fellow at the institute and the report’s author, said he did not know whether the Pioneer Institute’s allegations led to a federal subpoena issued in January seeking Connector records dating to 2010. But the Pioneer Institute had written to federal authorities last October, accusing the state of multiple violations of federal antifraud statutes, alleging that state officials had failed to properly conduct a required test and had overstated progress on the software.

Elizabeth Guyton, press secretary for Governor Charlie Baker, who took office in January, said the administration was cooperating with the subpoena.

Otherwise, she said in an e-mail Sunday, “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 report includes accounts of people failing to show up for critical meetings and employees having to open documents on their home computers because their work software was outdated. It adds fresh details to what was already well known: A lack of leadership, accountability, and transparency contributed to a debacle the state has yet to recover from.

Advertisement



The 2013 Connector website never worked, frustrating consumers and costing taxpayers millions. A rebuilt website that was launched last fall works better but is still not fully functional.

Asked to respond to the Pioneer Institute report, UMass Medical School spokesman Mark Shelton said in an e-mail Friday that the school “acted appropriately at all times during its work with the Connector.”

Shelton said that UMass had received a subpoena from the US attorney as well as information requests from the Massachusetts attorney general and the inspector general of the US Department of Health and Human Services. The medical school, he said, has been “assisting and fully cooperating” with these inquiries.

Linda F. Odorisio, CGI’s vice president for global communications, said in an e-mail Sunday: “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 October 1, 2013. Despite these hurdles, CGI conducted itself professionally and ethically throughout the project, and unequivocally rejects any suggestion that it performed otherwise.”

Odorisio said that the Connector’s difficulties were “not unique” to Massachusetts and “were outside of CGI’s control.”

Advertisement



Glen Shor, the former chairman of the Connector’s governing board and now a vice president at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, did not reply to a request for comment. Jean Yang, the Connector’s former executive director, could not be reached. Louis Gutierrez, who became executive director this year, declined to comment.

The 22-page report is based on two main sources of information: the weekly and monthly audits performed by the consulting firm BerryDunn from October 2012 through October 2013, which have long been publicly available; and interviews with the alleged whistle-blowers.

Archambault said most of those interviews were with two people: a lead technical worker at UMass who was fired, the report said, after refusing to approve faulty work by CGI; and an assistant program manager who had access to most of the correspondence among state and federal officials.

The report asserts that the contract with CGI lacked quality-control measures, that both CGI and the state failed to devote enough resources to the project, and that the state failed to enforce deadlines and demand quality. At one point, according to the report, CGI was moving ahead with design work without waiting for approval from the Connector.

Much of the past criticism, Archambault said, has focused on CGI’s performance. But this report highlights the role of officials from the administration of Governor Deval Patrick who, he said, showed little concern for what the public would have to go through. “They knew this site would not work. The technical staff knew it, the senior management knew it,” he said. But instead of fixing it, they covered it up, the report contends.

Advertisement



Archambault called for a full accounting of “where the money went, how it was spent,” and said that only such an audit could restore trust in the Connector.


Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer