Company with checkered record to handle health exchange

The state’s health care exchange has awarded a $15 million contract to a Virginia company with a mixed track record in Connecticut.

Through a competitive process, the exchange, called Access Health CT, selected Maximus Inc. of Reston, Va., to run its call center operation. Maximus will handle phone calls and guide consumers through buying and enrolling in a health insurance plan through the Affordable Care Act.

Exchange leaders said they hired the company because it did a fantastic job handling similar contracts in other states, including running a call center for Medicaid in New York.

Maximus came under fire in Connecticut several years ago for the way it handled work to upgrade a police database and handle child care payments for the state Department of Social Services.

Former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal sued Maximus in 2007, alleging breach of contract over work to update a computerized law enforcement database. Blumenthal charged that the system was “defective.” Maximus denied the breach of contract charge. In 2010, Blumenthal reached a $2.5 million settlement with Maximus and its subcontractor.

In 1997, DSS threatened to fire the company over a backlog in handling child care reimbursements to welfare recipients. The department gave Maximus a deadline to make a host of improvements after customers and day care providers complained about customer service and a backlog in payments.

Exchange officials defended their choice of Maximus, saying the new contract — effective March 1, 2013, to Aug. 31, 2016 — involves completely different work than the police computer and child care payment contracts.

“There is literally no relation between some of those past instances and services needed today,” said Jason Madrak, chief marketing officer for the exchange.

“The best analogy I can make is if there is something wrong with the Buick production line, that doesn’t necessary mean all Chevys are defective,” he said.

Maximus spokeswoman Lisa Miles said the two contracts at issue were a long time ago under different management, and she pointed out that both were resolved. Maximus has successfully delivered more than 20 contracts to the state of Connecticut across multiple agencies, she said.

Patient safety advocate Jean Rexford questioned the selection of Maximus given its past history with the two controversial contracts.

“I’m just curious what the bidding process was. This group was known to be insensitive earlier and the population they will be working with will be similar to the one they worked with for DSS. How did people think they had changed this time to be effective?” asked Rexford, who is executive director of the Connecticut Center for Patient Safety.

Miles, who is senior vice president of corporate communications for Maximus, pointed out that the company is very different today and values transparency.

“We’re the largest administrators of Medicaid managed care enrollment,” she said. “We really understand the clients that will be coming through the exchange in Connecticut, and we believe we are best suited to help them.”

The exchange received a total of seven proposals for the contract work including some firms from Connecticut, Madrak said. He described the request for proposal process as very competitive and comprehensive.

When the phone center opens for enrollment Oct. 1, Maximus will provide access to representatives who are culturally competent and bilingual in Spanish, Chinese and more than 100 other languages, the exchange said in a statement.