UHIP’s projected cost balloons to $492 million

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The projected cost of Rhode Island’s problem-plagued computer system for benefits has grown to nearly half a billion dollars, state officials said Friday.

The state’s latest document updating the federal government puts the total cost of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) at $492 million through the 2018-19 federal fiscal year, with $108 million of that amount to be covered by state taxpayers and the rest by the feds. That is a significant increase from the $445 million estimate put forward in August.

UHIP’s cost through the close of the 2016-17 federal fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, remains pegged at $342 million. From there it’s expected to hit $408 million in 2017-18 before reaching $492 million in 2018-19.

All the amounts must still be approved by federal regulators, and initial cost estimates for UHIP have sometimes come down in the past.

“It certainly is a significant number, and it’s a big system,” Courtney Hawkins, director of the R.I. Department of Human Services, told Eyewitness News. “I think it’s important for people to know that that dollar amount goes back to 2011.”

“It’s been a big investment, but we think it’s going to drive, ultimately, a better customer experience for people who need benefits and a better experience for our workforce,” she said.

Launched in September 2016, UHIP is a complex system that handles eligibility for assistance programs including food stamps, Medicaid and HealthSource RI. But it’s suffered a seemingly endless series of technical problems since going live, forcing Gov. Gina Raimondo to apologize and fire multiple senior aides. She’s also halted payment to Deloitte, the contractor that built UHIP.

“We are monitoring Deloitte’s work closely, and will continue to not pay them until we have the system we envisioned,” HealthSource RI spokeswoman Kyrie Perry said Friday. “In addition to Deloitte’s credit of $27 million in April, state leadership negotiated a credit from Deloitte of $58.6 million which will provide for maintenance and operations through June of 2018 and will offset additional, unanticipated costs from personnel and contractors related to supporting implementation of the system.”

She also said state leaders are “working collaboratively to ensure that every dollar of taxpayers’ money invested in this project is closely managed.”

Hawkins added that DHS processed 22,000 applications during the month of November. “It’s certainly not the system we need in this moment, but I think it’s important to realize that it’s certainly better than it was,” she said.

Before UHIP launched, the Raimondo administration insisted UHIP would pay for itself by June 2018. A Target 12 investigation in September revealed officials were no longer willing to say if the system ever will do so, though Raimondo said at the time it still “has the potential to pay for itself.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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.