Two things became abundantly clear at Thursday night’s House Oversight Committee Hearing.
First, there is no end in sight to the UHIP debacle. Second, when the system if fully function (if ever), there won’t be any cost savings associated with it–at least with respect to personnel.
The state has spent roughly $90 million on the UHIP project. The total cost, with federal funds factored in, is almost $500 million.
The hearing opens up serious questions about the competency of Governor Gina Raimondo’s administration and their capability to manage large projects.
In one particularly astonishing exchange, Eric Beane, the state’s secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, couldn’t say when the computer system to administer public assistance benefits would be fully functional without errors, despite being pressed by Representative Jason Knight (D-Barrington).
“Deloitte is working without an established payment schedule right now,” said Knight. “And I know that somewhere in Deloitte there is an executive who has mapped out when they anticipate that their commitment to this project on the build-in will be done.”
“I know that that exists. It has to be out there, because they’re in business to make money. They’re losing money now and they want to stop the bleeding”, Knight continued. “Does Rhode Island have a similar document?”
A Never-Ending Problem
There was no firm answer from Beane. Beane only said that there were software updates due by June, but that he expected those updates to be problematic and require additional updates.
“We got into this because nobody on the Rhode Island side was driving the ship. Nobody on the Rhode Island side was managing the program, demanding performance out of Deloitte and checking up on them. I thought we had solved those problems. Have we solved those problems?”
Beane sought to assure the committee that the state is managing and overseeing Deloitte. Beane suggested that wrapping up the project sooner, rather than later, would somehow be going easy on the company.
“We’re going to hold them accountable to all the amendments that they’ve made. Having been on this program for almost a year now, I’m unwilling to say that I’m going to let them off the hook in June. It’s important to say that no matter how many updates you make to the system, if its not done…we’re going to say ‘it’s not done. You’re going to keep working. And we’re not going to pay you,” said Beane.
At one point, Beane acknowledged that he wouldn’t be surprised if the system was still being fixed by this time next year. Yet the state’s internal documents only specify that Deloitte will be working on the system until June of 2018. There have been 46 changes to the original document, Beane stated.
“Experience has cautioned me not to expect that they’re going to hit all the performance topics at that time (June 30th),” said Beane. “(Deloitte) will be our partner for at least another year, at this point.”
In November of 2016, Raimondo said that she expected the problems to be resolved in one year. That would have been November of last year. The state came to an agreement with Deloitte last year that allowed the state to stop paying the company due to a $57 million credit it received from the company due to all the problems within the computer system.
Any Management Taking Place?
Despite Raimondo’s assurance, the state continues to struggle with the system. Legislators continue to receive calls from constituents who are being blocked from receiving benefits that they should be getting.
“People are being dropped from Medicaid and being pronounced dead (in the system), without being notified,” said Committee Chairwoman Patricia Serpa (D-West Warwick, Warwick).
Knight pointed out that it seems like the state is still failing to monitor Deloitte.
“We get the feeling that Deloitte is driving the show, rather than the state of Rhode Island, which is the whole reason we are into this problem in the first place. There was a lack of adequate lack of function and management on the Rhode Island side,” said Knight.
No Personnel Savings
It was also brought to light that the system itself will not, when it is working properly, allow the state to save money by reducing the amount of employees working at the benefits department. That fact effectively means the vast troubles with bringing the system into line will effectively be for naught.
“When the system is up and running, and everything is beautiful…at that point will we be able to reduce the amount of staff that we have,” asked Blake Filippi (R-Charlestown, Block Island, Westerly, South Kingstown).
Filippi was obviously looking for some light at the end of the tunnel for Rhode Islanders. If the state could reduce staff as a result of the project, taxpayers would ultimately be saving money.
The answer was jaw-dropping.
“It’s a good question that I can’t answer at this time. It’s unclear what the future operating model will be,” said Courtney Hawkins, the Director of the Department of Health and Human Services, who has been focusing on this project.
“I don’t envision a reduction in the number of staff.”
But wasn’t the whole point of the computer system upgrades, and a larger reliance on the internet for people who want to apply for benefits, an effort to save money in the best interests of the taxpayers? Filippi asked.
Negative, Hawkins said. Instead, it was to improve quality, she said, apparently without seeing any of the irony in her statement.