Target 12

'We are very sorry': Deloitte apologizes to RI about UHIP

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) -- Deloitte, the contractor responsible for building the troubled UHIP computer system, is apologizing to Rhode Islanders for its role in the problematic project.

“We fully realize that our public sector work impacts the lives of individuals and families, often when they are most vulnerable,” said Deborah Sills, of Deloitte Consulting’s public sector practice. “We are very sorry for the impact that our system issues have had on your constituents, on state workers, and on service providers.”

The apology was made in front of the R.I. House Oversight Committee Thursday evening. It’s the first time Deloitte representatives testified at a State House hearing on UHIP, which is short for the Unified Health Infrastructure Project.

Sills told the committee widespread system issues did not show up in testing prior to UHIP’s launch.

“We go through a series of tests on the system and the state goes their series of tests d the well as the state goes through their series of tests as well,” Sills explained. “We went through that set of tests and we confirmed, and the state confirmed, the system was working."

UHIP went live in September 2016. The computer system was supposed to streamline benefits like Medicaid, food stamps and child care assistance for hundreds of thousands of Rhode Islanders.

But almost immediately after UHIP launched, users reported missing benefits, hours-long call wait times to the R.I. Department of Human Services, and long lines at DHS field offices.

As Target 12 first reported a month after the system launched, the federal government warned the state it was not ready to live with the system. Deloitte officials acknowledged Thursday night they were also aware of that warning.

“In retrospect, it would have been a very good idea for us to go to pilot,” Sills admitted.

Lawmakers asked if the system will ever be fully functional.

Deloitte did not provide a timeline, but one of the company's representatives, Kenny Smith, said progress is being made.

“We looked up and down the system from an architecture standpoint, from a functionality standpoint, at every choice that was made here, and questioned for ourselves, ‘Can we get this to where it needs to be for Rhode Island?’ And the conclusion was yes,” Smith told lawmakers.

In her testimony, Sills suggested part of the problem was how "complex" UHIP is. Former Gov. Lincoln Chafee's administration made the initial decision to combine building Rhode Island's Obamacare insurance exchange with an upgrade for the software that handles other social services programs.

"RI Bridges is the only eligibility system in the country that integrates more than 10 state and federal health and human services programs and a state-based health insurance exchange," she said, using an alternative name for UHIP.

The state is facing two federal class action lawsuits over UHIP, both filed by the ACLU's Rhode Island chapter. One alleges some Medicaid recipients have not been given adequate notice about the termination of their benefits. The other accuses the state of illegal delays in providing SNAP benefits caused by the system.

Last fall a judge appointed a special master, attorney Deming Sherman, to try and find solutions to the SNAP issues. In his latest update earlier this month, Sherman said he hopes a scheduled May 19 technical upgrade and other fixes "will go a long way toward reducing, and hopefully eliminating, the compliance gap."

UHIP's projected cost has ballooned to $492 million through the 2018-19 federal fiscal year, with $108 million of that amount to be covered by state taxpayers, according to the state's most recent estimate to the federal government.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.


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