- Associated Press - Thursday, February 27, 2014

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Nevada is turning to its own state government experts to provide technical support and oversight to its beleaguered health exchange.

The Silver State Health Insurance Exchange board opted Thursday not to dump Xerox Corp., which was awarded a $75 million contract to develop and operate the state’s online insurance Web portal known as Nevada Health Link.

But the board agreed with a recommendation by staff and administration officials to pull information technology experts from other agencies to oversee corrections that have plagued the system since it went live Oct. 1.

In the meantime, the state also will pursue hiring another contract vendor to evaluate the system and make recommendations. Deloitte Consulting, which already provides computer operating systems and technical support to other state agencies, was suggested.

Board members also tapped a veteran within state human services to serve as interim executive director. Steve Fisher, deputy administrator with the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, will replace Jon Hager until a permanent replacement is found.

Hager announced his resignation last week effective March 14.

Fischer will be in charge of day-to-day decisions and receive backup support from Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden and Dave Gustafson, the state’s lead information technology officer.

Xerox has been under fire for continued problems with the website and long wait times for telephone assistance since it went live in October.

Complaints from consumers, insurance brokers and agents about poor customer service, lost payments and lack of coverage verification led the board earlier this month to call Nevada’s exchange a failure and demand options for Plan B - including ditching the state-run exchange to let the federal government take over.

That alternative was dismissed Thursday as a last resort, as Willden and Department of Administration Director Jeff Mohlenkamp recommended the course of action adopted.

“I think they need to stay for the time being,” Willden said of Xerox. “With regards to state staff, we’re fully committed to sending as many resources as we can.”

Gustafson agreed, saying the state-run exchange is “an important initiative to Nevada.”

“These are really big enterprise projects. They’re very complex.

“If you want to change horses in the middle of a race - that comes with a certain amount of risk.”

Xerox executives tried to assure the board it was making progress to fix computer errors. They said wait times for telephone assistance have been reduced to less than two minutes, and a backlog of more than 32,000 email, letter and fax correspondences has been cut to around 23,000.

Xerox officials said with four weeks left to go in the first open enrollment period that ends March 31, aggressive marketing campaigns are underway to try to get consumers who began an enrollment application to finish the process.

They set an enrollment goal of 150,000 by the end of March - a figure board members and state officials called unrealistic, given the program’s track record.

As of Feb. 19, paid enrollment was 19,320.

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