Connector Failure and Its Aftermath Will Weigh on All Future IT Procurement in MA

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General is investigating the failure of the Governor Patrick administration and its chosen information technology contractor to adapt the state’s health exchange to the complex requirements “Obamacare” back in 2013.

The U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts may also be conducting a full-blown investigation of the massive and costly failure of The Connector, as the exchange is commonly known, during the latter part of Patrick’s second term.
We should wait for those investigations to be completed before grappling with the specifics of how to prevent another public technology disaster like the one that engulfed The Connector.

But we don’t have to wait to acknowledge that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, like most public entities in the U.S., is not really set up to be a high-functioning, equal-to-the-private-sector procurer of cutting edge technology. 
This is not to disparage anyone on the public payroll now doing tech procurement.  I’m sure most of them are intelligent, honest, dedicated, diligent, etc.  I’d be surprised if our state procurement units have enough people to do the work as thoroughly and as quickly as it needs to be done.  And they probably lack adequate resources and support from management above.

Given how long The Connector failure and its costly remediation have been in the news, I suspect that Charlie Baker began to take stock of the problems in tech procurement before he was even inaugurated.  I hope that, now, he’s as eager to make changes in that area as he is in mass transit.
The cost of The Connector failure has been estimated from a quarter of a billion to a billion dollars, or more.  And the tab's still open!

Just this week, the Center for Health and Information and Analysis (CHIA), a state agency established under health care cost control legislation in 2012, cited the failure as a major reason the cost of operating the Medicaid program jumped 19% in 2014.
Some 200,000 Massachusetts residents who were unable to enroll in private health plans due to technical problems at The Connector were put on Medicaid as a stopgap, meaning taxpayers had to foot the bill in 2014 for millions of dollars in care provided to persons who otherwise would have gotten private insurance coverage.

Connector: The gift that keeps on taking.
Back in May, during debate in the Massachusetts Senate over the state budget for Fiscal Year 2016, Minority Leader Bruce Tarr tried to get an amendment through that would have allocated $2.6 million for assisting the Attorney General in recovering funds from the private vendor involved in The Connector failure and appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the failure.

Tarr’s amendment gained the support of only 8 of the 39 senators in attendance at that point.  Several senators argued against it.  They said the AG was already investigating The Connector; therefore,  the $2.6 million appropriation was not needed.
“Hardworking people are working to address the systemic dysfunction of The Connector site and to remediate something that has been a disaster,” said Senator Tarr.  “We need to try to bring to justice and hold accountable the people responsible for the expenditure and the loss of those hundreds of millions of dollars.  We know the federal government is underway in that task and the U.S. Attorney has subpoenaed records.  The level of dysfunction has brought the attention of the federal government’s chief prosecutor in Massachusetts.  It would seem that the U.S. Attorney’s client would be the federal government and the federal government might seek compensation for acts on behalf of the federal government.  Who will stand for the citizens of the Commonwealth?…We can’t just let go by the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars and inappropriate acts by people representing the Commonwealth.”

This was an instance, common in the annals of our state and federal legislatures, where the best argument didn’t win.
Boston’s Pioneer Institute has taken some of the most critical looks at The Connector disaster.  For a good sample  of what the Institute has said on this issue, go to:

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