Obama taps private company to oversee dozens of fixes to health insurance website - Macleans.ca

Obama taps private company to oversee dozens of fixes to health insurance website


WASHINGTON – It should be working well by the end of November. That’s the Obama administration’s rough timetable for completing a long list of fixes to HealthCare.gov, the new, trouble-plagued website for uninsured Americans to get coverage.

Summarizing a week’s worth of intensive diagnostics, the administration acknowledged Friday the site has dozens of complex problems and tapped a private company to oversee fixes.

Jeffrey Zients, a management consultant brought in by the White House to assess the extent of problems, told reporters his review found dozens of issues across the entire system. The site is made up of layers of components that are meant to interact in real time with consumers, government agencies and insurance company computers.

It will take a lot of work, but “HealthCare.gov is fixable,” Zients declared.

The vast majority of the issues will be resolved by the end of November, he asserted, and there will be many fewer screen freezes. He stopped short of saying problems will completely vanish.

The administration also said it is promoting one of the website contractors, a subsidiary of the nation’s largest health insurance company, to take on the role of “general contractor” shepherding the fixes.

Quality Software Services Inc. — owned by a unit of UnitedHealth Group— was responsible for two components of the government’s online insurance system. One is the data hub, a linchpin that works relatively well, and the other is an accounts registration feature that initially froze and caused many problems.

HealthCare.gov was supposed to be the online portal for uninsured Americans to get coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care law. Envisioned as the equivalent of Amazon.com for health insurance, it became a huge bottleneck immediately upon launch Oct. 1. The flop turned into an embarrassment for Obama and will likely end up as a case study of how government technology programs can go awry.

The briefing from Zients came a day after executives of QSSI and the other major contractor, CGI Federal, told Congress that the government didn’t fully test the system and ordered up last-minute changes that contributed to logjams. Next week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is scheduled to testify.

Visiting a community health centre on Friday in Austin, Texas, Sebelius said that “in an ideal world there would have been a lot more testing” but added that her department had little flexibility to postpone the launch against the backdrop of Washington’s unforgiving politics. House Republicans trying to defund the nation’s health insurance program precipitated a government shutdown.

Zients gave some new details about the extent of the problems, but administration officials are still refusing to release any numbers on how many people have successfully enrolled. Although 700,000 have applied for coverage through the new online markets, it’s believed only a fraction of that number actually managed to sign up. Before the website went live, an administration estimate projected nearly 500,000 people would sign up in October alone.

The marketplaces are the gateway to obtaining health insurance under the new health care law, which requires most Americans to have coverage by Jan. 1. Middle-class people who don’t have insurance on the job can purchase a private plan with new tax credits to make the premiums more affordable. Low-income people will be steered to an expanded version of Medicaid in states that agree to extend the safety net program.

The federal government is running the insurance markets or taking the lead in 36 states. The rest were set up by states themselves.

Consumers have until Dec. 15 to sign up for coverage to take effect Jan. 1. Under the law, pre-existing medical conditions will no longer be a barrier. But the markets also need lots of young, healthy customers to keep premiums affordable. Open enrolment season extends until Mar. 31.

Zients said almost daily fixes are already having an impact. For example, more than 90 per cent of users can now complete one of the first steps, creating an account.

But the application process, which involves submitting and verifying personal information and income details, remains “volatile,” he said. At one point, as few as one-third of users were getting through that part.

Zients said there are two big categories of problems. Performance issues involve the speed and reliability of the website. Functional issues are bugs that keep the software from working as intended. Among the high-priority issues is that insurers are getting enrollments with incomplete, incorrect or duplicative information.


Obama taps private company to oversee dozens of fixes to health insurance website

  1. This experiment in social medicine in the US of A is going to be so expensive it will break the country.

    • LOL they are the only western society without healthcare.

      What they need to do is turn off the war machine. THAT’S what’s costing all the money.

      • The US has invented and produced many if not most of the life-saving procedures, equipment and drugs used by Canadians and other blessed countries. Do you actually believe the US itself is “without healthcare”?

        • The US has done no such thing. Where do you get this crap?

          Healthcare is looking after the patient…the US has none unless you’re wealthy.

          • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the United States spent more on health care per capita ($8,608), and more on health care as percentage of its GDP (17.2%), than any other nation in 2011.

          • And has the worst outcomes of anyone in the western world.

          • Which is why Canadian politicians, when they get sick, often go to the US?

          • Another of your many myths.

          • LOL that is like Free Republic in the US….crackpot


            Go dunk your teabag somewhere else hon

          • Name-calling?

          • Hey you chose the name, not me

          • LOL Danny? Yes.

          • “The cost of providing health care for U.S. citizens who have no insurance will total $125 billion this year, with taxpayers and private entities footing most of the bill, a report issued on Monday said.”

          • And has the worst outcomes of anyone in the western world

          • “Healthcare is looking after the patient…the US has none unless you’re wealthy.”

            Simply not true. Not even close to true. Have you ever even been to the US? Have you spoken to Americans? Do you know anything at all about what you are saying?

          • Yes, m’dear. I just don’t believe in the myth of exceptionalism.

          • Great. If you get sick, I trust you will eschew all American-made medical inventions and products.

          • Well that eliminates electron microscopes, stem cells, pacemakers and insulin for you then.

      • The US spends approx. 2.7 trillion annually on healthcare. It spends approx. 1.7 trillion annually on its military.

        • US has the worst outcome of medical expenditure in the western world.

          And stop the war maching.

          • “US has the worst outcome of medical expenditure in the western world.”

            I thought you said it had no healthcare.

          • Spending money is just spending money….it doesn’t mean healthcare.