Roberts: RI’s $364M IT project will be ready for Sept. launch

Health and Human Services Secretary Elizabeth Roberts.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island state government’s biggest-ever IT project is on track and will be ready for its new Sept. 13 launch date, the official in charge insisted Friday.

Health and Human Services Secretary Elizabeth Roberts said the recently announced two-month delay of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) – a complex effort to build a new computer system to handle public-assistance programs such as Medicaid and food stamps, as well as HealthSource RI – is paying dividends.

“Part of our extension in time to September is to do more pilot testing,” Roberts said during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. “We’ve been doing user acceptance testing … and had a significant improvement over the last two to three weeks as we worked through those bugs.”

UHIP has seen its projected budget soar from $135 million to $364 million since former Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s administration began it in 2011, while its launch date has slipped by more than a year. But Roberts said the rising cost and lengthening timeline are mostly due to an expansion in the scope of the project.

“The old system launched in the ’80s, back when Reagan was president,” Roberts said. “So think about the leap forward we’re taking all at once. Most corporations actually build over time. Government, unfortunately, frequently does the ‘big’ change, and big changes are tough, but we’re working very hard to get through it.”

The federal government is covering roughly four-fifths of UHIP’s nine-figure cost, and it was federal officials who recently pushed Rhode Island leaders to delay the system’s launch by an additional two months. Roberts argued the investment will pay off in the long run; her office estimates it will save the state about $16 million in the 2016-17 budget year alone.

“It’s going to be a huge step forward – better service for the people we serve, better value for the taxpayer,” Roberts said.

“Of course it’s complicated,” she said. “I like to hold up my iPhone and say to people, how many people have upgraded their operating system on their iPhone and how perfectly has that gone? There often are bugs and glitches as you do big IT builds.”

Acknowledging concerns among some agency staffers about how smoothly the transition to UHIP will go when it launches on Sept. 13, Roberts said state officials have put “all kinds of contingency plans” in place to make sure people are able to access state services even if there are early technical glitches.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes The Saturday Morning Post and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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