Governor Gina Raimondo on Wednesday blamed state vendor Deloitte for delivering what she called a defective IT system for administering human service benefits. Raimondo also apologized to Rhode Islanders for ongoing problems with the Unified Health Infrastructure Project system.
During a media briefing, Raimondo said she would not have approved launching UHIP last September if she knew it was so flawed. She said Deloitte bears the responsibility for delivering what she called a substandard product.
"We paid them a lot of money, we didn’t get what we paid for," Raimondo said. "And they represented to us that it was in much better shape than in fact it was: defective functionality, incomplete interfaces, engines that still aren’t working."
A report by Eric Beane, acting director of the state Department of Human Services, outlines what has happened since UHIP was launched and faults Deloitte. It also lays out a series of short-, medium- and long-term steps for responding to the situation.
Deloitte spokesman Jonathan Gandal offered this comment:
“We take seriously our commitment to the people of Rhode Island and deeply regret that the new system has caused frustration and hardship for some DHS clients, workers, and service providers. For the past five months, UHIP has successfully determined eligibility and paid benefits to more than 300,000 people each month, but we know that many others have had difficulty accessing benefits, processing cases and receiving timely payments. We are working around the clock to fix the system issues impacting UHIP’s effectiveness. We not only stand behind our work, we step up. We have invested significant resources into improving UHIP and helping the State to reduce its backlog. We have also brought in new project leadership and strengthened our team with additional technical skills and program experience. We will continue to enhance the team as needed and work collaboratively with the State to make things right.”
The $364 million Unified Health Infrastructure Project is supposed to eventually save millions of dollars through better coordination. But for now, Raimondo said most of the state’s healthcare and social service programs are still not working properly.
"Deloitte presented much too rosy of a picture to us," the governor said. "I sat in meetings with Deloitte and questioned them and they gave us dashboards that showed us everything was green and ready to go, and the fact of the matter was it wasn't."
Raimondo said she pressed Deloitte prior to the launch of UHIP on whether the system would face some of the problems seen with big IT projects in other states, and was told the outlook was good. As a result, she said, the state will pause and rethink how it pursues such projects in the future.
After two state officials lost their jobs in January due to UHIP fallout, the governor put Beane in place as acting head of the state Department of Human Services and tasked him with assessing the situation. She called his report the first "unvarnished" account of what was happening with UHIP and led her to realize the IT system was far more flawed than previously recognized.
Raimondo said the state is working to renegotiate its contract with Deloitte, to condition payments on performance. She said there is a possibility the state might sue the company.
According to the state Department of Administration, the state has already paid about $200 million to Deloitte in connection with UHIP, while withholding $30 million of $68 million in outstanding payments.
The governor acknowledged the state had insufficient IT capacity to respond effectively following the delivery of UHIP. She called that a somewhat common problem for states, and noted that other states have had problems with high-profile IT rollouts.
Raimondo said the state will move aggressively to make progress in improving problems with UHIP, although she said getting the system to where it needs to be could take more than a year.
Anya Rader Wallack, formerly HealthSource RI and Medicaid director for the state, is stepping in as acting director of the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services after HHS head Elizabeth Roberts resigned Tuesday. Raimondo said she agreed with Roberts' view that problems with UHIP demand "a fresh set of eyes."
Meanwhile, some health care providers remain skeptical change will come fast enough.
Clients have waited weeks for benefits like food stamps. And health care providers have waited for payment as the system’s glitches get worked out. Nicholas Oliver heads an agency that represents home and hospice care providers. He’s skeptical Governor Raimondo understands the gravity of their situation.
“Long-term care providers have been carrying the state’s debt on providing care without reimbursements since last summer," Oliver said. "As a result of that, these long term care providers, including the home care and hospice agencies that I represent have become financially fragile.”
Oliver said some clients who could use home or hospice care have been waiting for that care because their applications are pending. Also, the state laid off many of the staff that had helped process those applications. Raimondo said the state will hire more workers to try to straighten out problems with UHIP.