WASHINGTON — Aiming to avoid more insurance chaos this fall, the nation’s new health care chief announced Friday she’s revamping the management of President Obama’s health overhaul.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell appointed a new high-level operations manager within the department. Separately, she’s hiring both a CEO and a technology leader to specifically handle the insurance overhaul. The CEO would take concerns directly to Burwell.
Taken together, the moves will “further instill ongoing accountability for reaching milestones, measuring results and delivering results for the American people,” Burwell said in a statement.
“This is a good move that should have occurred two years ago,” said Robert Laszewski, a health industry consultant often critical of Obama’s overhaul.
Hiring a CEO for the insurance expansion had been strongly urged by the Center for American Progress, a think tank with close ties to the White House.
The administration has signed up 8 million people in the law’s new insurance markets offering subsidized private plans. But last fall’s rollout of HealthCare.gov was paralyzed by technology problems, creating a major political embarrassment for the White House.
A rescue mission led by management consultant Jeff Zients got the website working reasonably well by the end of November. But Zients reported that his team found hundreds of software bugs and insufficient computing equipment. He also blamed “inadequate management oversight” that got in the way of identifying and fixing problems.
The new HHS operations manager appointed by Burwell on Friday is a contractor executive who worked closely with Zients to turn the website around. Andy Slavitt is a vice president of Optum, a technology company whose subsidiary built the one part of HealthCare.gov said to have worked well – a federal data hub that helps verify the personal information of people applying for health insurance. Optum is owned by UnitedHealth, the nation’s largest insurer. Slavitt will oversee operational issues involving all the major HHS programs, including Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.