White House Taps Private-Sector Tech Experts To Fix Exchange Site
The Obama Administration has recruited several top software and technology professionals and experts from Google, Red Hat and Oracle to help in HHS' efforts to resolve the technical problems that have plagued the Affordable Care Act's federal health insurance exchange website and improve its functionality, USA Today reports (Kennedy et al., USA Today, 10/31).
About two weeks ago, HHS announced that it was assembling a team of computer experts from the public and private sectors as part of a "tech surge" effort to address HealthCare.gov's technical glitches, which have persisted since it opened for enrollment on Oct. 1. Consumers and insurers reported application delays and data errors that extended beyond the high visitor traffic and software issues that HHS initially cited for the issues (California Healthline, 10/21).
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the administration had appointed former Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Jeffrey Zients to lead the tech surge team. Zients previously served as CEO of the Advisory Board Company, which produces California Healthline for the California HealthCare Foundation (California Healthline, 10/23).
On Monday, CMS spokesperson Julie Bataille said the tech surge team had installed enhanced monitoring devices on the portal that will allow administrators to monitor the website and identify problems if they arise. She added that the team also reconfigured parts of the website's system to allow insurance plan list pages to load within seconds. Other changes involved notices informing visitors about their subsidy eligibility status (California Healthline, 10/30).
CMS Names Newest 'Tech Surge' Team Members
In a post on HHS' "Digital Strategy" blog on Thursday, Bataille named two of the tech surge team's newest members:
Michael Dickerson, a site reliability engineer at Google; and
Greg Gershman, a software engineer who previously served as a Presidential Innovation Fellow and has worked for the General Services Administration (Cornwell/Morgan, Reuters, 10/31).
Bataille said that Dickerson is on leave from Google and has been assigned to work with Quality Software Services Incorporated, one of the federal contractors that built the site. Meanwhile, Gershman will work with CGI Federal, another federal contractor that worked on the site, to improve its performance and help engineers release improvements quickly (USA Today, 10/31).
CMS did not name the experts from Red Hat and Oracle, but Oracle CEO Larry Ellison hinted that his company was involved the tech surge initiative, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Easley, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/31) .
Speaking at a shareholders meeting Thursday, Ellison said Oracle "thinks it is our responsibility as a technology provider in the technology industry to serve all of our customers, and the federal government is one of our customers, so we are helping them in every way we can" (USA Today, 10/31). He added, "We are doing everything we can to assist those contractors to make HealthCare.gov a highly performant, highly reliable, highly secure system" (Reuters, 10/31).
CMS: HealthCare.gov Resolution on Track for Nov. 30 Deadline
Meanwhile, Bataille -- during a media conference call Thursday -- echoed previous assertions by administration officials that HealthCare.gov would be fully functional by Nov. 30, "Healthwatch" reports. She said, "It is no secret that we are on an aggressive timeline," adding, "We believe we have the right team in place that is going to enable us to meet that timeline."
However, Bataille emphasized that changes to the site "will happen gradually" and that improving the exchange "is a continuous process" ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/31).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.