Nevada votes to dump online health-care vendor

Nevada officials will drop the vendor responsible for building the state’s health insurance exchange and move to join the federal exchange after a bumpy rollout frustrated thousands of residents seeking coverage.

The Silver State Health Insurance Exchange board voted unanimously Tuesday to dump Xerox, which won the $72 million contract to build Nevada’s exchange. Because so many parts of the exchange were never built, or were built poorly, the state has paid Xerox about $12 million.

A spokesman for the Nevada board said the state will continue to pay Xerox, but not more than a few million dollars in order to complete parts of the Web site. The Nevada Health Link will continue to serve as a Supported State Based Marketplace, meaning it will continue to certify plans and patient eligibility for Medicaid.

Last week, board members were in Washington meeting with officials at the Department of Health and Human Services to weigh their options. On Tuesday, the board voted to hand control of the online program to the federal government.

HHS will pay costs associated with transferring Nevada’s health exchange to the federal exchange. But the move will still cost Nevada millions of dollars as it merges the state’s Medicaid system with the federal government. The state estimates those costs could be as much as $20 million, though Nevada will only be responsible for 10 percent of total costs.

The board also voted to issue a request for proposals for a more permanent replacement, one that could come from another state with better software.

Two other states, Oregon and Maryland, have dumped their state health-care exchanges after glitches caused delays and consumer confusion. Oregon opted to join the federal Web site, while Maryland adopted software from Connecticut’s functioning exchange.

Democrats and Republicans voiced support for the board’s decision. In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D) said there was “no reason” Nevada’s exchange couldn’t have been as good as states like Kentucky or Connecticut.

“Xerox has been a disaster and was the cause of considerable flaws and glitches on Nevada’s site,” Reid said.

A spokesman for Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the board “made the best decision it could under these difficult circumstances.”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal also quoted Xerox spokeswoman Jennifer Wasmer, who called the board’s decision “extremely disappointing.”

“Xerox has been unwavering in its commitment to Nevada Health Link and to getting all aspects of the exchange right,” Wasmer said.

Reid Wilson from Govbeat

Same-sex war wido to receive VA benefits

The Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed to provide survivor benefits to the first-known same-sex war widow, marking a breakthrough for the gay-rights community, according to an advocacy group.

Tracy Dice Johnson, a staff sergeant with the Army National Guard, announced Sunday that VA would recognize her marriage to the late Donna Johnson, who died in a suicide bombing attack about eight months before last year’s Supreme Court decision that guaranteed equal federal benefits for all legally married couples.

The decision means Johnson will receive dependency and indemnity compensation, which goes to the spouses, children and some parents of service members who died while on active duty. VA will pay her retroactively to the date of her late wife’s death, according to an announcement from the American Military Partners Association.

Johnson described VA’s action as “an important step towards our end goal of achieving equal treatment for all military families,” speaking at the AMPA’s national gala in Washington Sunday.

AMPA president Stephen Peters described the decision as a “major breakthrough for our gay and lesbian veterans and their spouses trying to gain access to their earned benefits.”

Johnson and her wife were married in February 2012 in the District of Columbia, where same-sex marriage has been legal for more than four years. Donna Johnson died in October 2012.

Josh Hicks from the Federal Eye