RI paying $300 an hour for UHIP special master

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The special master appointed by a judge to oversee Rhode Island’s problem-plagued UHIP computer system will be paid $7,740 for his first month of work.

Deming Sherman – the prominent local attorney named special master by U.S. District Chief Judge William Smith – logged 25.8 hours of work in November, according to an invoice obtained by Target 12.

Sherman’s appointment was the result of a lawsuit filed a year ago by the ACLU’s Rhode Island chapter, alleging the UHIP debacle had left residents unable to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for food to which they were entitled.

The parties initially reached a settlement, but months later the ACLU accused the state of violating that agreement, leading Smith to appoint Sherman last month. A special master is an official given broad powers by a court to handle complex situations.

According to a court documents, neither party objected to Sherman’s rate of $300 an hour. Smith described the amount as “reasonable and fair.”

In a letter to Smith on Nov. 20, Sherman reported “that the parties have been cooperative and are committed to solving this complicated problems.” At that point he had held two full meetings with the parties and spoken to representatives from Deloitte, the company that built UHIP, among others.

“I believe DHS has made substantial progress in reducing the backlog of SNAP applicants, especially those seeking expedited treatment,” Sherman wrote. “The long-term solution to a variety of problems is more elusive.”

Sherman’s proposed budget includes 22 hours of work in December, 18 hours of work in January, and 18 hours of work in February. At $300 an hour, the bill for those three months would total $17,400. Sherman told Smith his “best guess” is that his appointment will last about six months.

The hourly billings from Sherman will not be the only cost associated with the special master’s appointment. He told Smith he is “inclined” to hire a technical consultant and estimated the cost of that would be $3,000 a month, though he warned “it could be more.”

Since its launch in September 2016, UHIP has caused problems with access to benefits, including Medicaid, child care assistance, and food stamps, for thousands of Rhode Islanders. (UHIP is short for Unified Health Infrastructure Project.) The project’s cost is now projected to total $492 million through 2019.

The state has negotiated credits from Deloitte totaling about $85 million due to the problems.

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.

Ted Nesi contributed to this report.