A Bermuda-based contractor hired to streamline and privatize the state welfare eligibility system in Texas has been paid US $91 million under a problem-ridden contract that is the subject of increasing criticism from legislators.
Last year, when Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins signed the five-year, $899-million contract with Accenture LLP, he predicted a smoother, more efficient and accessible screening and enrollment process.
Today, the commission, acknowledging that the program is fraught with operational problems, has been forced to scale back the timetable for the Accenture take-over. The system is to enrol people in programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and children’s health insurance.
News of the $91-million payment to Accenture renewed criticism of the contract, the largest of its kind in Texas history. Some legislators say the program is destined to be an expensive failure and should be canceled. Citing increasing complaints from their constituents, even some Republicans are joining traditionally anti-privatization Democrats.
Some legislators fear that privatizing welfare services is a hidden effort to cut eligibility rolls and realize savings by not providing services to otherwise qualified children and the poor.
The program was to have been rolled out in stages this year. But because of software problems and inadequate contractor employee training, the state has delayed implementation and has taken back some of Accenture’s functions.
In trumpeting the program, Hawkins predicted the new system would be easier to navigate and take less time to complete while saving the state as much as $646 million over five years. Because of the problems, however, the commission now admits that it will not meet that projection.
While he has pledged to stick with the program, Hawkins has said it will be delayed until he is satisfied that the contractor can do the job.- With files from the San Antonio Express-News