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Health

Finger-pointing continues on Maryland's health exchange

Weeks after officials at the state's health care exchange began blaming IBM software for the worst problems, including lost applications, IBM began pushing back, saying the state shares some of the blame.

It's the latest salvo in the blame game that has been going on since the exchange launched, and crashed, on Oct. 1. In this case, IBM officials released a statement Wednesday that said the exchange also bears some responsibility for the website, which is still so troubled that officials are considering dumping it.

IBM was brought in by Noridian Healthcare Solutions, the company that had been in charge of setting up and managing the exchange website until the exchange terminated it last month. IBM's Curam software was supposed to determine eligibility of consumers for subsidies, but officials have said it's responsible for thousands of lost and frozen applications and incorrect subsidy determinations.

"While the state notified Noridian of its concerns over the management of the project and integration of the elements of the system, it gave that integrator limited direction and exerted a lack of discipline over the development process, including testing," said Mitch Derman, an IBM spokesman.

"The result was a system that didn't work as required, and Noridian has since been fired," the statement continued. "Since the launch, IBM has worked closely with the state to resolve problems and invested significant resources at no charge to the state."

Derman also said IBM officials recently met with Gov. Martin O'Malley to "suggest ideas to further improve and finish the system."

But it's not clear the state plans to keep the site going much longer after open enrollment ends March 31. On Wednesday, Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, chairman of the exchange board and state health secretary, repeated earlier comments that exchange officials are reviewing options that include adopting another state's functioning technology, such as Connecticut's, or moving to the federal exchange website or fixing Maryland's own site. He said an announcement would come in weeks.

In the meantime, Sharstein said the IBM software still contains many defects and the company remained on board because its workers were needed to help fix its own product, and, as a subcontractor, is still being paid for some of its work.

IBM now answers to Columbia-based Optum/QSSI, which was hired in December to help fix the site and took over management when the exchange cut ties with Noridian.

"We have such serious challenges that there obviously is plenty of blame to go around, but we've been very disappointed by the core software product and that product continues to be defective," Sharfstein said. IBM "does not appear to be denying that."

Noridian, which did not respond to a request for comment, has laid at least some blame on constant changes sought by the exchange.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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