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Zients: Website Will Work Smoothly by End of November—Under New Management

By Rebecca Adams and John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat

October 25, 2013 -- Federal officials recently handed over the task of overseeing changes to the federal insurance exchange website to a contractor that was part of the team that developed The administration expects the site to work well by the end of November.

Quality Software Services, Inc., (QSSI) is taking over for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) as manager of the project. The company is an affiliate of UnitedHealth Group, which also owns one of the nation's largest insurance companies.

The choice of QSSI as the new manager of the project is notable because while the company's work on the federal hub has been widely viewed as one of the few pieces of the IT apparatus that worked, the company also created the registration tool that caused many of the bottleneck problems in the first week.

A QSSI official testified at a House hearing last week that its tool to create secure accounts, along with other components of the registration process by other vendors, was overwhelmed by the high volume of consumers. CMS officials had told QSSI just two weeks before the launch that consumers would have to register for an account before they could window shop. QSSI officials said they had largely fixed the volume problem by Oct. 8.

QSSI officials also had the job of overseeing software code created by another contractor—CGI Federal—and had warned the administration of problems with the code.

The fix-it man that the White House tapped to clean up the massive problems with the website, former Office of Management and Budget acting director Jeff Zients, said that a team of outside experts working over the past week has determined the site is fixable but it will take enormous efforts to fix software bugs, improve the speed of the site and patch other problems.

Speaking slowly and forcefully, Zients said in a conference call with reporters, "There are a lot of problems that need to be addressed. But let me be clear: is fixable."

Zients said that one of the top priorities on a "punch list" of IT repairs is a change to make sure that insurers are getting accurate information on the people who have enrolled.

At a White House meeting this week, 14 insurance executives expressed concerns about the site. Some insurance industry officials have complained since the launch that they are getting incorrect or duplicate information on enrollees.

Updates Promised

Zients declined to detail which other problems are priorities but said the administration would provide regular updates on improvements.
The launch of the website was problematic from the start. Zients said very few people were initially able to create accounts to start the application process but now 90 percent can do that.

At one point only 3 of every 10 potential applicants were able to complete the application and move on to the next step of choosing a plan if they wanted. Zients did not say how many more people are able to get to that point in the enrollment process now or how many people have actually enrolled.

Zients sought to reassure the public that "there's a clear path forward."

Zients said QSSI, as the general contractor, "will prioritize the needed fixes, and make sure they get done. They'll work around the clock with all the key players, including CMS leadership, senior representatives from each vendor, and each contractor."

He promised "a relentless focus on speed and execution to work through the punch list. Each week the site will get better as we make the necessary fixes. And by the end of November, will work smoothly for the vast majority of users."

So far, about 700,000 people in state-run exchanges and the federal marketplace have completed insurance applications since the Oct. 1 launch. Federal officials have not said how many of those people have gone on to pick a plan and pay the premium so that they could have coverage on Jan. 1. Officials also have not said whether most of those consumers are from health insurance marketplaces in states that built their own websites.

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