One Month Later, Healthcare.gov Still a Disaster

Healthcare.gov.

A government official who helped oversee the bug-riddled Healthcare.gov Website has resigned his post.

Tony Trenkle, Chief Information Officer (CIO) for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees Healthcare.gov, will reportedly join the private sector after he departs on November 15. A spokesperson for the Medicare agency refused to say whether he had been forced out, telling reporters: “Tony made a decision that he was going to move to the private sector and that is what our COO announced yesterday.”

According to The Washington Post, Trenkle oversaw Medicare deputy chief information officer Henry Chao, “whose name came up in congressional hearings as the source of key Healthcare.gov decisions.” Because of his role as supervisor, Trenkle is considered a significant player in the Website’s development; The New York Times indicated that he was one of two federal officials who signed an internal memo suggesting that security protocols for the Website weren’t in place as recently as late September, a few days before Healthcare.gov’s launch.

Despite costing $400 million (so far) and employing an army of experienced IT contractors, Healthcare.gov remains prone to glitches and frequent crashes, frustrating many of those seeking to sign up for a mandatory health-insurance policy. Nor is the Health Insurance Marketplace online application (the key element of the Website) available between 1 AM and 5 AM EST, when federal contractors scramble to repair the underlying tangle of issues.

Following Trenkle’s resignation, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted to the Senate Finance Committee that Healthcare.gov would require hundreds of fixes. “We’re not where we need to be,” she said, according to The New York Times. “It’s a pretty aggressive schedule to get to the entire punch list by the end of November.” Sebelius added that she was ultimately accountable for what she termed the “excruciatingly awful” rollout.

Healthcare.gov has experienced massive problems since its Oct. 1 debut. In addition to repeated crashes and slow performance, the Website’s software often prevents people from setting up accounts. President Obama has expressed intense frustration with the situation, but insists the Affordable Care Act (ACA) backing the Website remains strong. “The essence of the law, the health insurance that’s available to people is working just fine,” he told reporters in October. “The problem has been that the website that’s supposed to make it easy to apply for insurance hasn’t been working.”

Millions of Americans have visited Healthcare.gov, according to the Obama administration, but documents recently obtained by CBS News suggest that only a few hundred people signed up for an actual healthcare plan during the Website’s first days online. If that trend continues, and relatively few individuals sign up for an insurance plan via the Website, it could create huge problems for the program—the healthcare exchanges serviced by the Website reportedly need around 39,000 enrollees per day if the federal government wants to reach a goal of seven million enrolled by March 1.

The federal government won’t release ‘official” enrollment numbers until the end of November, but it’s clear that the Website’s backers are losing the battle of public perception. Can a “surge” of new engineering help—spearheaded by private-sector employees from Google, Oracle, and other tech giants—help turn things around?

 

Image: Healthcare.gov

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