White House Assembles IT Team To Address ACA Website Glitches
In a post published Sunday on the HHS "Digital Strategy" blog, the Obama administration said it has formed a team of computer experts from the public and private sectors to help resolve the technical glitches that have plagued the Affordable Care Act's federally run insurance exchange website, USA Today reports (Kennedy, USA Today, 10/20).
The announcement comes nearly three weeks after the website opened for enrollment. Since then, consumers and insurers have continued to report application delays and errors with the HealthCare.gov portal that extend beyond the high visitor traffic and software issues that HHS officials initially identified as the causes of the problems (Goldstein, Washington Post, 10/20).
The blog post states that the federal insurance exchange website "has not lived up to the expectations of the American people," adding, "We are committed to doing better." The post noted that HHS "is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve" the portal (Radnofsky/Weaver, Wall Street Journal, 10/20).
HHS did not disclose the identities of the experts or the companies that are assisting with the website issues, or a timeline for the issues to be resolved, Politico reports (Millman, Politico, 10/20).
However, the newly assembled team's members will include U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, according to HHS spokesperson Jason Young, Bloomberg reports. Young said the administration also asked CGI Group -- the Canadian IT company that served as the website's main contractor -- to add more staff and direct its "A-team" to help resolve the problems (Nussbaum/Wayne, Bloomberg, 10/21).
According to the New York Times, the administration first approached the federal contractors that helped build the website last week about fixing the problems and rebooting the site's system by Nov. 1. However, some specialists -- speaking on condition of anonymity -- said there was broad agreement that the goal was unrealistic.
Instead, they said they could not expect the system to run smoothly until after the Dec. 15 deadline for individuals to enroll in coverage starting Jan. 1. The specialists said that correcting the errors reported by insurers and consumers would require an extensive rewrite of software code. One specialist said that up to five million lines of code would need to be rewritten (LaFraniere et al., New York Times, 10/20).
HHS Touts Efforts To Improve Website
Despite the setbacks, HHS in Sunday's blog post also noted that its efforts to resolve the website's problems are paying off, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports.
The post stated, "We have updated the site several times with new code that includes bug fixes that have greatly improved the HealthCare.gov experience." In addition, HHS noted that it rolled out a temporary virtual "waiting room" to help ease the surge in traffic, which was adding to the problems (Hattem, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/20).
In a separate blog post, HHS said it has made some modifications to the website aimed at relieving some user frustration, Politico reports. Those changes will make it easier for individuals to compare health plans and prices in their region without having to deal with the website's flawed online process.
The newly improved process offers clearer information about plans and instructions on downloading paper applications, contacting a call center representative or finding an in-person application assistant. HHS also updated a calculator tool that allows users to determine their eligibility for federal subsidies and more accurately determine out-of-pocket costs (Kenen, Politico, 10/20).
According to the Journal, HHS also confirmed that it made several changes to the system in recent days to ease consumers' difficulties with creating accounts. In addition, HHS has increased computer capacity and issued software fixes to address sign-up and login flaws. HHS said the administration also is "defining new test processes" to check on the site's progress and encouraging consumers to report glitches (Wall Street Journal, 10/20).
Obama To Address 'Glitches' in Rose Garden Event Today
In related news, President Obama on Monday is expected to address the exchange website issues and discuss the ACA during a White House health care event, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports (Pace, AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/21).
On Sunday, a White House official said Obama will defend the federal exchange and its overarching goal, while acknowledging that the problems it is facing are "unacceptable" (Mason/Mutikani, Reuters, 10/20). The official said Obama will discuss the steps the administration is taking to resolve the errors (AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/21).
During an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew noted that Obama and various administration officials are unhappy about the problem-plagued rollout of the federal exchange website. He said, "I think that there's no one more frustrated than the president" about the difficulties that consumers are facing. "There are millions of Americans who want health insurance," and it is "important for our economy for them to have health insurance," Lew added (Jackson, "The Oval," USA Today, 10/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.