Mass. discarding broken ObamaCare site

Massachusetts is preparing to abandon its troubled ObamaCare website, a system so problematic that the state was forced to enroll tens of thousands of people in temporary insurance plans through Medicaid.

The plan underscores the depth of technical problems with the Massachusetts Health Connector and echoes a recent decision by Cover Oregon, another glitch-ridden marketplace, to hand federal health officials the reins to its system this month.

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Massachusetts officials are pursuing what they described as a "dual-track strategy" for their insurance marketplace, combining new, off-the-shelf enrollment software with a back-up plan to shift the system into HealthCare.gov if the transition takes too long.

"I’ve said all along that no option on the table would be perfect, and the dual track certainly has its benefits and its challenges," said Sarah Iselin, special assistant to Gov. Deval Patrick (D), in a statement Monday.

"It does, however, solve for two realities: we need a reliable website to help people during the next open enrollment period, and we need to be in a position to achieve a fully integrated system in 2015."

Iselin and an official with UnitedHealth's Optum technology unit will present their plan to the Connector's board of directors on Thursday. Optum was hired to help strengthen the Massachusetts exchange.

The system's problems are particularly notable since the 2006 Massachusetts healthcare overhaul inspired the Affordable Care Act and its marketplaces.

While the state's initial exchange was successful, the transition to complying with federal rules proved troublesome last year.

Thousands of consumers were frustrated by the new enrollment website, leading Massachusetts to recommend the use of paper applications and enroll people in temporary health plans through Medicaid.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in a statement that "Americans are once again out millions of dollars with nothing to show for it" in the wake of Massachusetts' closure, and state officials should have to answer for their failure.

"Federal taxpayers should not be on the hook for the additional costs to clean up this debacle, which are sure to be high as the state scrambles to join the federal exchange," Issa said.

Prior to Monday's announcement, Massachusetts officials had considered rebuilding instead of replacing the website. They are now planning to use hCentive, a software product used to build insurance exchanges in Colorado and Kentucky.

State officials warned that a temporary transition to HealthCare.gov might be necessary if implementing hCentive takes longer than expected. Massachusetts is discussing that possibility with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and insurers, according to a press memo.

The next enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act begins in November. States reportedly must notify the federal government about their plans to join HealthCare.gov by June 1.