Governor adds deputy to health exchange board

By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon

Colorados governor has added his deputy chief of staff to the states health exchange board and says he wants the project to come in on time and on budget.

Kevin Patterson, Gov. John Hickenloopers deputy chief of staff and chief administrative officer, joined the board following news that Colorado needed a mediator to help settle differences between the states Medicaid managers and those building the states new health exchange. (Read more: Mediator to triage health exchange problems)

Kevin is one of the most talented people we have in the administration, Hickenlooper said this week. When theres something really important, I usually try to get him involved. Thats a reflection of how important we take it.

Doing something on this scale is very, very challenging, Hickenlooper said. I want to make sure we give them every opportunity to succeed and that they come in on time and on budget if humanly possible.

Patterson becomes the third ex-officio or non-voting member of the 12-member oversight board along with Susan Birch, executive director of Colorados Medicaid programs, and Jim Riesberg, the states Commissioner of Insurance. He replaces Ken Lund, executive director of Colorados Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

Health exchange managers declined to comment on Hickenloopers decision to add Patterson to the board.

Colorados exchange managers have come under increasing criticism as the deadline to go live with the new system on October 1 approaches.

On Tuesday, Republican lawmakers scolded exchange managers for asking for an additional $125 million in federal funds to launch and run the exchange. (Read more: Despite outrage, health exchange wants additional $125 million.)

And last month, an outside analyst monitoring IT for the exchange recommended a third party to triage and manage the project.

A mediator from the New Jersey-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has come to Colorado to help settle differences between the exchange, an independent public entity, and state Medicaid managers.

A spokeswoman for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation did not reply torequests for an interview about the mediator. After an intense weekend of working through some technology challenges last month, exchange managers said it was helpful to have an outsider move decisions forward. But the exchanges CEO and executive director, Patty Fontneau, said then that the mediator would not be making decisions for Colorado.

The states health exchange is slated to be an online marketplace that helps people find health insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, if a person qualifies for a public program, like Medicaid, the exchange is supposed to seamlessly connect that applicant with state computer systems to sign them up in real time.

The outside analyst from First Data found in a March report that squabbling between state and exchange managers over IT projects and other policy decisions has been slowing progress on the exchange.

A number of policy decisions need to be resolved by both COHBE (the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange) and HCPF (Medicaid managers at the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing); they include the approach to accommodate referrals, eligibility mixed households and life change events, wrote Yen Pham, the analyst from First Data.

These open policy decisions have an impact on each organization and are affecting the development progress. COHBE and HCPF have a peer relationship. This adds a layer of complexity as neither has the authority to direct and manage the activities of the other organization, Pham wrote.

Pham wrote that COHBE and HCPF are working collaboratively in resolving the challenges. Yet, she warned that there is limited time remaining to design, build and test (exchange technology) prior to the Oct. 2013 Go-Live date.

First Data is scheduled to be doing its third of five assessments during a three-week period this month. Read the initial First Data analysis from January and the second review from March.