For Government, IT Matters

If you needed a reminder that government information technology does have an impact on the daily lives of the public, consider what has been playing out in Maine for the past two plus years.

The state, along with contractor CNSI, have spent the past six years building a computer system to process Medicaid claims that doctors, hospitals and other health care clinicians submit for payment. Right from the start, however, the system had numerous software problems, which caused many Medicaid recipients to not receive health care and which delayed payments to health care providers, creating serious financial problems for many. After spending more than $70 million on the system (the original cost was $15 million), the state decided to kill the system and seek to outsource the claims processing. (I wrote about the problems in a feature for CIO Magazine last year.)

Despite the system's improved performance and the fact that Maine plans to outsource the work, Maine health care providers, advocacy groups and citizens still are expressing anger, as a sharply worded editorial that appeared last week in the Kennebec Journal illustrates. "Discredited functionaries" is how the editors described the state's public managers. That editorial drew an equally strong response today from the commissioner of Maine's Department of Health and Human Services. "Perhaps hyperbole has no bounds," Commissioner Brenda Harvey fired back.

Maine plans to contract with a private firm to manage the claims processing work and to provide a system that can expand as the federal government's Medicaid program demands increase. That contract should be awarded in about three more years.