State’s computing odyssey worthy of Kubrick script


In hindsight, perhaps the one computer more unreliable and malevolent than Maine’s Medicaid billing software – the MaineCare Management Information System – was the eerily human HAL-9000 from Stanley Kubrick’s landmark 1968 film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

And, as irony has it, Maine’s computing odyssey also began in 2001, when a Maryland computing company, CNSI, inexperienced in constructing a Medicaid billing system, proffered the low bid – $15 million – to build the state’s new processing software. Some $60 million in taxpayer funds later, the system still causes headaches.

Now, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services seems ready to scrap MeCMIS in favor of a third-party vendor to process claims from the 270,000 Mainers who receive MaineCare benefits. One hundred state jobs are reportedly on the block to help pay for it.

During a recent meeting in Augusta, Gov. John Baldacci shook his head about the Medicaid billing and referred to the debacle as one of his administration’s albatrosses. As well it should be, governor, for the ramifications of this Medicaid mess could have been ripped from the script of a Kubrick film.

Show us another computer system that can strip a building bare. It’s happened in downtown Lewiston, as the redevelopment of the former McCrory’s space on Lisbon Street has been shelved because the social service agency pushing the project, Sweetser, couldn’t get paid by MaineCare.

“We just decided to reserve our capital for essential programs and services rather than brick and mortar,” a Sweetser spokesman told the Sun Journal.

Sweetser had pledged a $1 million redevelopment of McCrory’s, a figure that should be tacked onto the sizable, and unrecoverable, losses attributed to MeCMIS.

The computer was a fiasco from the start. In April, Maine’s missteps were chronicled in CIO (Chief Information Officer) magazine; from India to Australia, the state’s irrational recruitment of CNSI, its unorthodox decision making for the software, and its lack of adequate pre-launch testing was exposed to the world.

“Indeed, the story of the Maine Medicaid Claims is a classic example of how not to develop, deploy and manage an advanced Web services system,” the CIO article stated. “It’s fair to say that the Maine Medicaid Claims System project has been a disaster of major proportions.”

What a fitting epitaph.

Brenda Harvey, the commissioner of DHHS, said Friday three private vendors are under consideration to process Maine’s Medicaid claims. As infuriating as it is to admit, after so many millions were squandered, letting the private sector manage MaineCare’s paperwork is a worthy idea.

After six years, and $60 million, the state has proven incapable of developing an effective system, and few in Augusta are confident MeCMIS can be salvaged.

In the film “2001,” stopping further damage by HAL-9000 was achieved by pulling the plug. There’s little evidence to support saving MeCMIS from a similar fate.

To read CIO’s article, “Maine’s Medicaid Mistakes,” visit