TennCare's director acknowledged Tuesday that contractors have not finished even the first of four testing phases required to launch a new computer system that was supposed to begin handling Medicaid enrollment last October.
The unfinished system is behind months-long delays for Tennesseans trying to sign up for Medicaid, resulting in federal criticism of the state agency and a lawsuit filed against TennCare last month.
State lawmakers questioned TennCare Director Darin Gordon during a joint fiscal review committee meeting Tuesday, pressing him for details about the $35.7 million contract with Northrup Grumman to create the "Tennessee Eligibility Determination System," or TEDS.
Gordon said state officials were frustrated with Northrop Grumman's performance, but added that late federal guidance on how to create the new enrollment systems added to the delay.
"These are complex systems having to be implemented on a very short runway," Gordon said.
He said that the state had hired a third-party auditing firm, KGMT, to review how long completing the system will take. The review itself will take 14 weeks.
He could not give lawmakers a firm launch date for the enrollment system, stressing that TennCare did not want to launch the program until it worked.
Rep. Brenda Gillmore, D-Nashville, asked for more information about how the delays were affecting hospitals.
"We cannot bury our heads in the sand and say this system being delayed has not had some impact on our health care infrastructure," said Gillmore.
Other lawmakers requested regular updates on KGMT's audit and the development of the TEDS system.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Northrop Grumman spokeswoman Liz Shrum said the company "remains committed to the success of the TennCare program for our customer and the citizens of Tennessee. We continue to work in conjunction with our customer to implement this complex system."
The presentation was the first time Tennesseee lawmakers have publicly questioned TennCare about the issue, which began to surface early this year.
Michele Johnson, director of the Tennessee Justice Center, one of the three advocacy groups suing TennCare, said the presentation underscored the need for the state to find temporary solutions to bring coverage to people who have been without it for months because of the delays, including newborns and the elderly.
"It's pretty clear TennCare going to have to start from scratch, and that is pretty terrifying," said Johnson, "How long can these folks wait?"
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Contact staff writer Kate Harrison Belz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6673.