Murray says state health insurance website still not working; suggests ‘forensic teams’ to check on state child welfare agency

Senate President Therese Murray said today that despite the assurances of Governor Deval Patrick, many Massachusetts residents still unable to use the state website designed to help them enroll in health insurance.

In a wide-ranging interview that also touched on the problems plaguing the state Department of Children and Families, Murray said her office had been inundated with calls from constituents who have been frustrated by the troubled Health Connector website.

“Honestly, it’s a little frustrating,” Murray said. “Those constituent calls we’re getting, we are still getting these calls. And the governor explained to us that even though people are told they don’t have coverage, they really do have coverage. I don’t know about that.”

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For example, Murray said, a woman who needed a heart transplant called her office on Friday after she was kicked off the state Medicaid program because her income was $14 above the legal monthly limit.

“And she has no health insurance,” Murray said. “It’s very, very frustrating to see this woman is struggling, and she’s not the only one.”

The Senate president said that, with the problems afflicting both the Health Connector website and the state’s unemployment insurance system, “we’ve just been swamped” with constituent complaints.

A Plymouth Democrat, Murray said the troubled Connector website is threatening to undermine public confidence in the federal health care law.

“It’s certainly got enough people talking negatively about it that weren’t talking negatively about it before,” she said. “I think the uncertainty of what’s happening in that marketplace for businesses is concerning for them, too.”

The Connector’s online marketplace, the model for the insurance exchanges in the national Affordable Care Act, was working smoothly until the fall.

But the new website, launched in October to comply with the federal law, has frustrated customers and required the state to move tens of thousands of people into temporary coverage because their applications could not be processed.

Patrick announced last week that Sarah Iselin, a top executive at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, will be charged with coordinating efforts among several state agencies and website developer CGI to get the site working again.

“The governor last week acknowledged that, indeed, we are not where we want to be with regard to the functionality of the Connector website,” Iselin said in an interview today. “However, we have put tools in place to ensure that folks who have coverage don’t lose it and folks who want it, can.”

Iselin said, for example, that people who cannot use the website can call the Connector’s hotline to get help finding coverage.

Murray, turning to the Department of Children and Families, floated the idea of launching a series of “forensic teams” that would perform spot checks at DCF offices and foster homes, to make sure they are operating properly.

She said the idea was modeled on similar teams from the state Department of Public Health that perform regular checks on private nursing homes, to make sure they are up to code.

“I honestly believe that that’s going to be needed in the future for this,” Murray said. “A fresh pair of eyes sometimes is helpful, especially if you get emotionally involved with these families and the abuse they’re going through.”

Patrick has launched an outside review of DCF by the Child Welfare League of America and has proposed a $32.6 million budget increase for it. Murray said the Senate is likely to go along with that budget proposal when it releases its spending plan in the coming months.

Murray, who has served in the Legislature since 1993, announced over the weekend that she would not seek reelection this fall, and would leave Beacon Hill when her term expires in January 2015.

The decision was not a surprise since she is term-limited as Senate president, and has already agreed to hand over the reins of power to Senator Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat who has claimed sufficient votes to succeed her.

At least one person, state Representative Vinny deMacedo, a Plymouth Republican, has announced that he will run for Murray’s seat this fall. Murray said a Republican may have a shot at winning the seat

“It’s a conservative district,” Murray said. “It’s a red district. I’m the only Democrat elected there.”

Of her future, Murray said, “I’m keeping all my doors open.”