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Tennessee has 10 days to find a health-care fix

Gov. Bill Haslam (R-Tenn.) speaks at a Washington Post Live event in 2013. Gov. Bill Haslam (R-Tenn.) speaks at a Washington Post Live event in 2013.

Nearly a year after its botched health-care rollout, the federal government says Tennessee is still making it too hard for people to sign up for insurance.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services director Cindy Mann has delivered a stern warning – and a 10-day deadline – for Tennessee officials to patch up its health-care network.

At the center of the complaints is the state’s $35 million computer system, which has already undergone nearly a year of repairs. Those delays have left the state with no reliable way of confirming eligibility or accepting streamlined applications, which federal officials say is preventing thousands of eligible people from getting coverage.

Mann said her office has “engaged with Tennessee on multiple occasions to express concerns about the continued delays,” but state workers have “repeatedly expressed reluctance to deploy resources” to resolve the issues.

She blasted state administrators for ignoring deadlines while failing to help first-time users work the system. (She pointed out that some counties have installed computer kiosks for people to enroll directly on the federal site instead of receiving face-to-face help.)

TennCare director Darin Gordon – the recipient of Mann’s letter – blames most of the delays on the company hired to build the Web site, Northrop Grumman. Nine months into the project, Tennessee has only paid $5 million of the project’s $35 million pricetag.

TennCare spokeswoman Kelly Gunderson said she could not yet share details about the state’s response to the federal government, but said “there are numerous aspects of the letter with which we do not agree.”

Tennessee is one of 27 states that has opted for a federally managed exchange rather than creating its own. The state has received $9.1 million in grants to set up its exchange, on par with other states that signed onto the federal exchange.

Gov. Bill Haslam (R) has been a vocal critic of Obamacare, though he said last year that Tennessee’s program “could be a model for what true health care reform looks like.”

A spokesman for Haslam declined to comment on how closely he would oversee the state’s response, referring all questions to TennCare.

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