Lawmakers demand answers after grim report on UHIP failures

PROVIDENCE, R.I (WPRI) — Hours after Gov. Gina Raimondo apologized for making a mistake by launching the state’s new benefits system too early, legislators at the State House questioned one of her aides about the details of the botched rollout.

Eric Beane, acting director of the Department of Human Services, was ordered by the governor to complete a 30-day assessment of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) system after thousands of Rhode Islanders reported problems receiving benefits.

“There have been significant parts of the system that have never worked, and are not working right now,” Beane told the House Oversight Committee at a hearing Wednesday night.

Committee chairwoman Rep. Patricia Serpa said she was briefed on the findings of the report Tuesday night, but was “more annoyed” when she read the full assessment Wednesday morning.

“I think this report places too much of the blame on Deloitte,” Serpa, D-West Warwick, said. “And while they are not blameless, I do think that there’s plenty of blame to go around.”

Deloitte is the company the state contracted with to build the UHIP system, and the report says the project’s problems “largely stem from Deloitte’s delivery of an incomplete technology system that was not ready to go live in September 2016.”

The governor has stopped making payments to Deloitte, and wants the company to pay for the extra costs to repair the benefits system.

Raimondo also said she wasn’t given an accurate picture by Deloitte about the status of the system before she decided to go live.

“I was provided with poor information and made a bad decision,” Raimondo said Wednesday morning at a news conference. “But we’re gonna fix this and we’re gonna get through to the other side.”

At the oversight hearing, Serpa questioned Beane on an assertion the governor made that the administration was under “pressure” from “high-ranking General Assembly members” to launch UHIP to avoid further delays and higher costs.

Serpa asked who the pressure was coming from. Beane said former House Finance Chairman Ray Gallison, currently facing federal fraud charges, and former Rep. Eileen Naughton, who was defeated in her primary race last year, were among those asking questions of the administration.

“This is very troubling to me,” Serpa said. “That anyone would listen to, frankly, two legislators whose opinion didn’t amount to a hill of beans at this point.”

Other lawmakers demanded further answers as to who was responsible for the failures, while the most vulnerable Rhode Islanders suffer from the effects. UHIP administers benefits like SNAP, commonly known as food stamps, HealthSource RI, Medicaid and other programs.

“While you all are trying to figure it out, people are trying to see how they can make the next day,” said Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence.

“You’ve put your finger on the most important thing,” Beane told her. “That is the real world impact of this flawed system.”

Three top officials have resigned in the wake of the troubled rollout, including Health and Human Services Secretary Elizabeth Roberts on Tuesday. Last month, Department of Human Services Director Melba Depeña and Chief Digital Officer Thom Guertin also stepped down.

Beane, who conducted the review released Wednesday, took over for Depeña as acting DHS director.

Deloitte also commented for the first time Wednesday. “We take seriously our commitment to the people of Rhode Island and deeply regret that the new system has caused frustration and hardship for some DHS clients, workers, and service providers,” spokesperson Jonathan Gandal said.

The governor said it could take a year to get UHIP fully operational.