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Patrick Springer, Published January 08 2013

WSI still struggling with computers

FARGO – North Dakota’s workers’ compensation program continues to grapple with a computer system that has cost millions of dollars to implement and produced a backlog in paying medical bills.

Workforce Safety and Insurance, the state workers’ comp program, has spent more than $15.5 million on an information technology system that has been rife with problems.

Administrators will brief legislators today about the agency’s progress in implementing a system provided by Aon eSolutions, a project budgeted for up to $17.8 million.

WSI officials declined to be interviewed Tuesday about their plans ahead of the legislative briefing, but a staff memo from WSI Director Bryan Klipfel obtained by The Forum said the agency has ended its contract with Aon.

“We have big decisions to make in the months ahead,” Klipfel told staff in the Dec. 31 memo sketching out the coming year.

As of June, WSI was no longer paying Aon and had agreed to provide $912,000 in free maintenance and support as well as penalties exceeding $400,000.

As of late May, unpaid medical bills had soared to $15.5 million, but the backlog has declined significantly since then, WSI officials said. Problems resulted when a new payment system was automatically reviewing and paying bills.

Several deadlines for implementing the system to handle injured workers’ claims passed, but WSI has continued to use its old claims system because of problems with the new system.

“As I have stated all along, the injured workers, policyholders, and medical providers can be assured we will not make the switch to a new system until we are confident whatever systems we go with will serve our customers well,” Klipfel said in the memo.

“I think Aon wasn’t holding up their end,” Lisa Feldner, the state’s chief information officer and a member of a task force working with WSI, said Tuesday. “They weren’t making the progress that WSI wanted.”

A consultant warned WSI in a 2008 report that the Aon system could produce headaches, noting among other areas of concern that the system had never before been used for a state workers’ compensation program.

“There are potential gaps with respect to basic claims functionality and services, such as the absence of a fee schedule and the lack of an auto medical bill adjudication process,” Connolly & Associates said of the Aon proposal in a March 2008 report to WSI.

The consultants went on to warn that there was a “good chance” expectations for the Aon system could exceed its actual function.

“I think WSI wanted more customization than they were typically giving,” Feldner said. “Aon couldn’t deliver, from what I could see.”

A spokesman for Aon earlier told The Forum that the responsibility for the delays in implementing its system is shared.

“Responsibilities for the delays in completing the program lie with multiple parties, including Aon eSolutions, WSI and other third-party vendors,” Stephen Rhee, Aon’s chief operating officer said in a statement.

As for information systems the state has invested millions of dollars to acquire and put in place, “They’re definitely salvageable,” said Feldner, who heads the North Dakota Information Technology Department.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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