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Patrick Apologizes, Sees Fix For Failed Mass. Health Care Website

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Deval Patrick apologized Thursday to frustrated Massachusetts residents who have struggled to sign up for health coverage because of a problem-plagued state website and outlined a series of steps aimed at correcting the glitches.

Read: Mass. Woman's Healthcare Nightmare: 'I've Lost My Insurance'

Patrick said his administration may ask the federal government for an extension of a March 31 deadline to transition people from the state's landmark 2006 health care law to the federal health care law that was modeled after Massachusetts' first-in-the-nation program.

"The website that was supposed to make it easy has not worked well enough and the vendor on whom we relied has not been reliable," the governor told a gathering that included employees of the state's Health Care Connector Authority and Medicaid programs. "That has been frustrating to our customers, to all of you and to me. And it is unacceptable."

CGI Group, the Montreal-based information technology company that was hired by Massachusetts to create the new website, was also the top contractor on the troubled federal website.

A report prepared by experts from MITRE, a nonprofit research and firm, and made public on Thursday said the Massachusetts site suffered from "technology infrastructure and data stability problems" that led to significant performance issues and forced the connector to adopt "manual workarounds" as it tried to enroll or re-enroll applicants for health coverage.

Patrick said he hired Sarah Iselin, an executive at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, to oversee an effort to bring the website up to par. Iselin, a onetime state director of health care finance and policy, will work with Optum, a health care technology firm, on short and longer-term solutions.

Optum will be paid nearly $10 million over the next month under a contract signed with the state, officials said.

The University of Massachusetts Medical Center, which had been overseeing the contract with CGI, will be relieved of those responsibilities, the governor said.

Among possible options suggested in the MITRE report was to dismiss CGI completely and hire a new website vendor.

Patrick said that option had "crossed his mind," but that there were risks associated with that path.

Officials said the state had paid about $15 million of CGI's original $68 million contract that runs through September, and it would not make additional payments until the website was functional. Patrick said expenses incurred in correcting the problems would likely be offset by funds not paid to CGI.

CGI has said it is committed to improving the system's performance.

Jean Yang, executive director of the connector, said about 100,000 people were in "various stages" of applying through the website, including many who had insurance under the state's health care law but needed to re-enroll under the new federal standards.

Patrick acknowledged that the glitches have left many residents anxious about the status of their insurance and whether they had access to care.

"We're not going to let anyone go without insurance," he declared. "It's not going to happen."

Administration officials plan to visit Washington on Friday to discuss with officials at the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid the possibility of extending the March 31 deadline to complete the state's transition to the Affordable Care Act.

"The most painful calls we are getting ... are from people who need medical care and are concerned their coverage is not applicable or that they are not currently covered," said Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, executive director of the organization Health Care for All, who praised the steps announced Thursday by the administration.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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