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Maryland Health Exchange Woes Come Before Board

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Four years after the law’s passage, the Affordable Care Act remains unpopular with the American public, with a majority (53 percent) of U.S. adults saying they disapprove of President Obama’s signature health care legislation. credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

Four years after the law’s passage, the Affordable Care Act remains unpopular with the American public, with a majority (53 percent) of U.S. adults saying they disapprove of President Obama’s signature health care legislation. credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A Denver-based company will be paid up to $2 million more to help address one of the problems resulting from computer glitches with the state’s health care exchange.

The Maryland Board of Public Works on Wednesday approved the modification to the contract with Policy Studies Inc. It is needed for broker services to help Medicaid-eligible residents who applied through the health exchange to choose a managed care organization.

Because of technology problems with the exchange, information about plans people chose did not come through the system. The contract modification was characterized as an emergency, because failure to provide the services by the broker would impede access to health care for thousands of state residents.

The board approved the emergency modification 3-0, but Comptroller Peter Franchot criticized the procurement process that resulted in the contract.

Franchot said more than $160 million in contracts should have come before the Board of Public Works for greater scrutiny, instead of through a separate process that was created to implement health care reform in Maryland.

“In our desire to get this transformational new initiative done quickly, we didn’t take that first critical step to getting it done right,” said Franchot, who serves on the board with Gov. Martin O’Malley and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.,

Thomas Kim, deputy secretary of operations at the state health department, said the problems were not known until after contracts were awarded. For example, software designed for the exchange has had significant defects. Kim also cited infighting that broke out between the prime contractor and a subcontractor that resulted in a stoppage of work during the most critical period of software development. Kim said a procurement review committee included members from various state agencies, and each proposal was reviewed independently.

“We feel that the procurement process itself … would not have prevented those problems from occurring,” Kim said.

Franchot, however, said the Board of Public Works was a time-tested body for reviewing state contracts of this magnitude.

“There’s no substitute for a forum that allows all three of us to ask pointed questions about the cost, the necessity of services that we’re buying and the technical credentials of those who we’re being asked to hire,” Franchot said, adding that he hoped state policy makers would resist the urge to bypass the board in the future.

Chuck Milligan, deputy secretary for health care financing at the state health department, said about 15,000 people would be helped by the broker each month, until the state begins getting the needed data from the exchange. While there is no firm date for when that is expected to happen, Milligan said he anticipates the state will start receiving it sometime this spring.

Maryland is one of 14 states that chose to run its own health care exchange, which has been bedeviled by computer problems since its debut on Oct. 1.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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