Exchange board approves $5.1 million more to fix problematic IT system

By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon

Colorado’s health exchange board voted unanimously on Monday to spend another $5.1 million to fix a shared IT system with the state that has caused problems for thousands of customers.

Previously, the problematic IT system had cost Connect for Health Colorado at least $6 million.

Colorado taxpayers will be on the hook for additional costs for the system for the state’s portion of fixes through Medicaid and the state Office of Information Technology. Medicaid officials did not specify Monday how much their share of the fixes would cost.

Connect for Health managers pledged that spending the $5.1 million on the fixes now will result in savings of about $6 million over the next 15 months.

Known as the “Shared Eligibility System (SES),” the IT portal was supposed to let customers, health guides and brokers easily sign in online and determine if people would qualify for the state Medicaid program or could get tax subsidies instead. But far from being simple, the system ended up causing glitches for thousands of customers this year.

Before approving additional spending, board member Mike Fallon wanted promises that the IT system would finally be seamless for customers or that the contractors would not get paid.

“We’re going to be at $11 million (for this system). We need one that works,” Fallon said.

Colorado’s Medicaid director, Sue Birch, whose agency led the development of the system, vowed that the system will work this time. She’s made those same promises many times, but said that exchange managers and their IT contractors are now working more effectively with state IT managers and their contractors.

“We hold our vendors accountable,” Birch insisted.

But, she said the exchange board will have to continue to fund fixes over time.

Fallon scoffed at the idea of an endless stream of cash.

“I’m good with spending money that is well spent. If we’re not getting anywhere, we’re not doing any good,” Fallon said. “It has to work better than what they provided us.”

Birch insisted it will work.

“I have a confidence interval of 90 percent because of the way the teams are working,” she said. “I’m very comfortable that this next go-round will be far more successful.”

“I hope that’s the case because if it’s not, we’re not going to survive,” Fallon said.

In order to pay for the fixes, exchange managers will have to dip into reserves, and forecasts for new budgets show that they’re planning to hike user fees and assessments on people who buy health insurance.

State Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar said she doesn’t expect the market to settle down for the next several years.

She warned that it’s unlikely that costs will go down.

“We’re being impacted by the continuing implementation of the ACA (Affordable Care Act),” said Salazar, who is a non-voting member of the exchange board. “We’re going to see ups and downs (in rates) I predict for another two or three years. The call center costs are going to continue to potentially go up. I don’t think we’ll have stability for another two to three years.”

The governor’s deputy chief of staff, David Padrino, who is also a non-voting member of the board, insisted that the proposal for fixes should work.

“I think it’s progressed really dramatically and is our best effort to significantly improve the experience in November,” Padrino said.

That’s when the next open enrollment is slated to begin for customers wanting to buy insurance for 2016.


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