Friday, April 08, 2005

Colorado: The Price Tag Just Went Up... Again. And Now the Legal Battles Heat Up

Note: My comments are those of a private citizen, and do not represent the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in any way.

There are several new articles related to the Colorado Benefits Management System debacle.

State Plans To Spend Another $17 Million On Welfare Computer:

"DENVER -- The state plans to spend an extra $17 million this year because of problems with its new welfare computer system, which went online in September despite complaints from counties that they weren't ready to make the switch.
And budget planners say the state could have to come up to another $40 million next year to cover Medicaid claims that have been delayed because of the switch to the Colorado Benefits Management System....

Sen. Abel Tapia said the Joint Budget Committee has refused to sign off on the state's annual payment to Electronic Data Systems and has met with the attorney general to find out whether the company should be responsible for the extra money. However he thinks the state needs to spend the money now. "We feel that if we did any less it would hurt the people who receive the services and not the departments," Tapia said. However Sen. Dan Grossman, D-Denver, said he continues to hear from people having trouble getting benefits. He isn't convinced the state should sink any more money into the system. "At some point we've got to say we don't have any confidence in getting this fixed," he said.

Electronic Data Systems spokesman Bill Ritz declined comment.

The state has already scrapped its old computer systems and Sen. Ron Teck, R-Grand Junction, said turning back isn't an option. However, he faulted the state for not working hard enough to make sure the system was ready before putting it online. He also said Electronic Data Systems should have done a better job designing the system so there wouldn't be as many change orders now."

And then there is this:

Motions target 2 officials for benefit system woes
By Bill Scanlon, Rocky Mountain News

A Denver law firm asked a district judge Wednesday to hold two top state officials in contempt because of uncorrected problems in Colorado's welfare benefits system. One motion filed in Denver District Court asked that the executive director of human services be found in contempt if her department doesn't stop seeking reimbursements from Coloradans who received overpayments from the food stamp program. The filing said that Human Services Executive Director Marva Hammons told the court she wouldn't hold anyone responsible for overpayments caused by errors in the new $200 million Colorado Benefits Management System. Reimbursements shouldn't be sought until it's known that CBMS didn't cause the overpayments, the motion said.
A spokeswoman for Hammons said state lawyers are reviewing the motions and will respond in court.

Another motion asked that the head of Health Care Policy and Financing, Karen Reinertson, be held in contempt because the department missed deadlines for correcting problems in the Medicaid portion of the system. Denver District Judge John Coughlin ordered the state to fix by Feb. 28 software glitches that generated a flurry of contradictory letters to people applying for Medicaid and other programs. But lawyers for the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, which filed the suit, say the letters kept on coming and that complaints from clients about services cut off or denied are on the rise.

A spokeswoman for Reinertson said the attorney general is reviewing the court document. "We'll have a response in court," Rhonda Bentz said.

State officials implemented the $200 million CBMS on Sept. 1, despite officials from all 64 counties asking that it be delayed until errors were fixed. It replaces six systems that processed food stamps, Medicaid, cash assistance and other welfare benefits. It was supposed to be easier to use and more accurate than the old system, but it has been beset by problems.

A legislative committee this week appropriated an extra $17 million to cover cost overruns in CBMS, including overtime for county workers and legal fees. Gov. Bill Owens announced March 16 that Deloitte Consulting would be paid $335,000 to $365,00 to conduct an independent review of CBMS

Officials and politicians in Texas should be asking themselves whether or not they want to have to answer for their actions in court as well, because they are heading in the same direction here in Texas. At least Colorado's officials could claim they didn't see it coming. But with the Colorado mess as such a vivid warning, what will the excuse be for those in Texas who are pushing an equally flawed computer system into service, and are also pushing through a 57% staffing cut (despite Colorado's experience of realizing that they needed more staff than they did under the old system), untried call centers, and privatization of large portions of the welfare system?

Unfortunately, hope is fading that the Texas Legislature will do anything to prevent the looming disaster on the horizon. So, in about a year, you will probably being seeing a series of "see, I told ya so..." posts. I hope not, but am afraid that this is where we are headed.