- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 5, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The chairman of the House Health and Social Services Committee said the launch of the state’s new Medicaid payment system made the rocky rollout of the federal health care law look good.

Rep. Pete Higgins, R-Fairbanks, made his comments during a hearing Tuesday, in which the state health commissioner and vendor behind the system, Xerox, spoke to the problems and efforts being made to address them.

Commissioner Bill Streur said the responsibility for implementation rests with him, though he also pointed out that the department relies on Xerox’s expertise and that the company is responsible for the program’s success or failure.

“We will ensure that the system works as advertised,” Streur said.

Higgins, a dentist, said the system was supposed to be completed in 2010 but did not go live until October.

He said he didn’t want to make light of the situation, but “we’ve seen the Obamacare rollout and by any means, this rollout made that rollout look good.”

David Hamilton, a senior executive with Xerox responsible for government programs, said the company does Medicaid processing in other states, and the program built for Alaska to replace an older system represented the company’s “latest and greatest solution.”

He said signs of progress have begun to emerge, including improved claims processing and shorter wait times for providers to reach a help desk. He said the company understands the effects the system’s problems have had so far on the provider community, and he apologized.

Streur said the state has provided $118 million in advances to providers to help them with claims that have not yet been paid. But Karen Perdue of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association said some providers are leery of accepting advances because the money has to be attached to a patient and they’re worried about audits.

She also said a recent survey of her members indicated that providers aren’t seeing the kinds of improvements reported by Xerox yet. She said 62 percent of respondents said the system had not improved since November. She said there also were reports of providers waiting to reach the help desk and getting someone who could not help them.

She said some providers were doing better with others, noting larger facilities were able to manage with reserves.

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