State Capitol Briefs — Monday, Feb. 3

Gov. Deval Patrick over the weekend continued to promise a functioning health insurance signup website at the Connector Authority while foreshadowing the hiring of a new project manager to implement a “global and comprehensive fix” to the site. Going as far as to say the media should “not play into that panic” and should “assure people that they are covered,” Patrick said during a televised interview Sunday, “No one is going to be at risk of losing their insurance.” Patrick noted other states have had problems with the website vendor CGI and said a report expected soon from the consultant MITRE would examine “how we got here” and assess potential causes of action against the vendor. Patrick called the Connector site “an intended convenience that is not convenient” and again promised workarounds to help manually sign people up for insurance in the face of deadlines under the Affordable Care Act. “Health care reform is not a website. It’s about assuring that there is coverage and people have access to care and we will assure that in Massachusetts as we have for the last seven years,” Patrick said during an interview with WBZ’s Jon Keller. Lawmakers are fielding questions from constituents frustrated at their inability to use the site. The Health Care Financing Committee plans to call Patrick administration and Connector officials before the panel on Feb. 12 to discuss the situation. One committee member, Rep. Jay Barrows (R-Mansfield), told the News Service that an employee at his insurance company has been trying to get answers about coverage from the Connector since October. “She still has yet today to receive anything specific to what her costs are going to be,” Barrows said. “She’s freaking out and saying, ‘What’s going to happen if I’m not enrolled?’ She has no idea what she’s going to pay. I have no idea.” – M. Norton/SHNS

When Rep. Geoff Diehl testified before the Revenue Committee last week in favor of an initiative petition to repeal the gas tax indexing law, he was greatly outnumbered by proponents of the tax, including professional transportation and environmental advocates and business lobbyist. But after that imbalance was noted by Senate Chairman Michael Rodrigues, the chief organizer behind the ballot question took exception. “I am deeply disturbed by Senator Rodrigues’ failure to recognize that Rep. Diehl testified on behalf of the 120,000 people who signed our petition to stop automatic tax hikes. I am one of those private sector workers who could not afford to take the day off from work to go to the State House to testify,” said Steve Aylward, a Republican state committeeman. “His statement shows how completely out of touch Beacon Hill is with the realities of average taxpayers.” Rodrigues and House Revenue Committee Chairman Jay Kaufman both said they support indexing the gas tax to inflation, and argued that Democrats should not be afraid of the vote they took last year. Aylward called it “a gutless move” for lawmakers to try to avoid voting each year on a gas tax increase by making the tax hikes automatic, and said he plans to visit the Westport Democrat’s district to start collecting the 11,000 additional signatures petitioners will need to qualify for the ballot if the Legislature doesn’t act. Stop Automatic Gas Tax Hikes on Monday named Worcester’s Desiree Awiszio as its campaign manager. – M. Murphy/SHNS

Difficulties faced by the unemployed trying to use the state’s online benefits system will receive another round of public scrutiny next week. The Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee, chaired by Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), plans on Tuesday, Feb. 11 to hear from additional invited witnesses as it resumes hearings looking into the UI Online system, efforts by the Department of Unemployment Assistance to rectify system problems, and the system’s compliance with representations made by Deloitte Consulting and BearingPoint Inc. As government grows more dependent on technology to deliver services, lawmakers are also monitoring Patrick administration efforts to fix problems with the Massachusetts Health Connector website that have created barriers for residents trying to secure health insurance and comply with state and federal laws. Next Tuesday’s hearing begins at 10:30 a.m. in Room A-1. – M. Norton/SHNS

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