Report, Roberts replacement latest short-term responses to ongoing UHIP debacle
GOV. GINA M. RAIMONDO presents the results of a 30-day post-mortem summary of the state's ill-fated United Health Infrastructure Project at a Statehouse news conference Wednesday. The dysfunctional online social services access project added another casualty Tuesday, when Secretary of Health and Human Services Elizabeth H. Roberts tendered her resignation. Replacing her on an acting basis is Anya Rader Wallack, the former director of HealthSource RI (which has been affected by the UHIP debacle) and former head of the state's Medicaid program. In the background is Eric J. Beane, who compiled the report. He is chief operating officer and acting director of the Department of Human Services.
PROVIDENCE – Short-term solutions continue to roll out of Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s office concerning the long-term issues plaguing the state’s digital benefits system known more commonly as UHIP.
At a press conference on Wednesday morning, Raimondo named Anya Rader Wallack as acting secretary of the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services and presented a 30-day post-mortem summary of the current state of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project, also known as UHIP, outlining steps to be taken to fix the ongoing technical errors.
Rader Wallack is the former head of both HealthSource RI, the state’s health benefits exchange, and the Rhode Island Medicaid program. She was most recently program manager for training initiatives at the Center for Evidence-based Medicine in the Brown University School of Public Health. A Brown spokesperson said Rader Wallack is on a leave of absence from her position at the university.
Of the report, which was compiled by Chief Operating Officer and Acting Department of Human Services Director, Eric J. Beane, Raimondo said this was the “first time I received an unvarnished, not rosy picture of the situation. … It was more broken than I realized.”
She apologized to the DHS staff and impacted Rhode Islanders, adding that a “12-plus month” timeline is being implemented to fix UHIP.
Raimondo restated her belief that the concept of UHIP continues to be a good one, and one deserving of a fix rather than abandonment.
“We paid a lot of money, and we didn’t get what we paid for. [Deloitte Consulting] represented to us that it was in much better shape than it was,” she said.
She said she had been reassured by the company that technical issues experienced in state information technology project rollouts in Massachusetts and Kentucky would not reappear in Rhode Island.
Instead of doing what it was designed to do, which is give Rhode Islanders access to a broad array of state services, including the state’s health insurance exchange, HealthSource RI, Raimondo said state citizens were hit with “defective functionality, incomplete interfaces, engines that still aren’t working.”
Raimondo said she is considering pursuing legal action against Deloitte and will continue to withhold payment until the “entire contract is renegotiated.”
In addition, she said the report “made clear” that the layoff of DHS workers should not have taken place at the time of the rollout. The report, summarizing the state of UHIP, also notes the issues plaguing the state’s online benefit system were “exacerbated” by a shortage of staff.
“We needed more time and more staff, and instead we went with less staff” by recommendation of Deloitte, “so we were overly-reliant on them,” she said.
Beane explained the state has begun the process of hiring eligibility technicians and that up to 20 part-time positions will be back-filled. The number of full-time positions to be filled will be released at a later date.
“There will be an additional surge of staffing on a term-limited basis to help us get through the backlog, which continues to grow,” he said. A Department of Administration spokeswoman said Raimondo is demanding Deloitte cover the cost of any additional expenses uncured by the state, including the hiring of additional staff.
He added that the state is in conversations with the SEIU Local 580 R.I. Alliance of Social Service Employees regarding recalling employees laid off in prior months.
The executive summary of the 30-day report authored by Beane begins by placing the onus on Deloitte, the vendor implementing the software: “Deloitte delivered an IT system that is not functioning effectively.”
The summary outlines a plan that will, within the next three months, stop the growth in pending UHIP applications and look to reduce that number week by week. Beane’s report listed 15,000 pending non-medical applications that have yet to be addressed and 14,000 pending Medicaid applications in need of verification prior to an individual receiving coverage.
Technical issues surrounding the rollout of state IT initiatives have become too universal, said Raimondo, who added that she met with Deloitte prior to implementation to ensure similar issues would not occur in the Ocean State.
As examples, Raimondo mentioned Deloitte’s involvement with both of the error-ridden Massachusetts unemployment benefits computer system and Kentucky’s, public benefits system, Benefind.
The project assessment comes the morning after Health and Human Services Secretary Elizabeth H. Roberts resigned in light of the continued issues plaguing UHIP, which has cost $364 million.
Raimondo accepted Roberts’ resignation Tuesday evening and, in a joint statement with Roberts released Tuesday evening, said she “commended [Roberts’] commitment to the people of our state.”
The statement went on to laud Roberts’ efforts to decrease the rate of uninsured Rhode Islanders, but added: “it has become clear that the challenges faced by UHIP require new leadership.”