January 10

Government dumps health website contractor

The lead consultant who developed the bug-filled HealthCare.gov will be replaced when the current contract expires in February.

By Ricardo Alonso-zaldivar
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The administration said Friday it is parting ways with the lead outside contractor for the federal health care website, which had to be rebuilt after a disastrous launch last fall that embarrassed President Barack Obama.

CGI Federal’s current contract will not be renewed after February, a person familiar with the situation said Friday. The person requested anonymity because of federal rules regarding the privacy of contractors.

Instead, the administration intends to hire Accenture, a major technology consulting company, to run HealthCare.gov. The federal site serves 36 states.

Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, confirmed the change in an indirectly-worded statement. “We are working with our contract partners to make a mutually agreed upon transition,” he said.

The White House had hoped the website would make buying insurance under the new health care law as easy as online shopping. Instead, HealthCare.gov seized up on Oct. 1, the day it was launched. Although hundreds of thousands of people tried to sign up, only a handful actually succeeded.

At first the administration said the problem was not having enough equipment to handle the high level of interest. But major software and design flaws quickly emerged. For example, unlike most e-commerce sites, HealthCare.gov had no way for prospective customers to browse health plans without first opening an account. That only created more computing work for the overwhelmed system to handle.

The administration later acknowledged HealthCare.gov was down 60 percent of the time in October.

The White House sent in a troubleshooter, management consultant Jeffrey Zients, who managed to turn things around by the end of November. Since then, more than 1 million people have signed up for coverage, and when state-run websites are counted, enrollments total more than 2 million.

Like other senior officials, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she was surprised by the extent of the problems. Republicans have called for her resignation, but so far, Obama seems to be sticking with her.

Two senior HHS officials involved with the website have left since the launch, but their departures don’t seem directly connected to the problems. One had postponed retirement in order to help with the health care law and was praised by senior department leaders. The other had been looking to move to private industry.

CGI and other contractors have told Congress that there was not enough time to properly test the system and also meet the administration’s Oct. 1 deadline for launching it.

The decision not to renew CGI’s contract was first reported by the Washington Post.

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