Obamacare Site Gets a New Repairman

Microsoft’s Kurt DelBene takes over for Jeffrey Zients.

Mercy Cabrera, an insurance agent with Sunshine Life and Health Advisors, speaks on the phone as she helps a person with information about an insurance policy under the Affordable Care Act at the store setup in the Westland Mall on November 14, 2013 in Hialeah, Florida.
National Journal
Sam Baker
Dec. 17, 2013, 7:26 a.m.

A Mi­crosoft of­fi­cial will take over as the point per­son for re­pair­ing Health­Care.gov, re­pla­cing Jef­frey Zi­ents to see the site through to the end of the open-en­roll­ment peri­od.

Kurt Del­Bene, most re­cently the pres­id­ent of Mi­crosoft’s Of­fice di­vi­sion, will serve as a seni­or ad­viser to Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us, co­ordin­at­ing the vari­ous of­fices and gov­ern­ment con­tract­ors that have scrambled to re­pair Obama­care’s main en­roll­ment site in the wake of its dis­astrous launch in Oc­to­ber.

Del­Bene will re­place Zi­ents, who has won praise from Demo­crats and the in­sur­ance in­dustry for turn­ing around Health­Care.gov. Zi­ents’s ap­point­ment to lead the re­pair ef­fort was al­ways tem­por­ary — he is slated to take over as dir­ect­or of the Na­tion­al Eco­nom­ic Coun­cil early next year.

Del­Bene has agreed to stay on the job at least thor­ough the first half of next year, Se­beli­us said, mean­ing he’ll be on board through March, when the Obama­care en­roll­ment peri­od is sched­uled to end.

“First, Kurt will provide man­age­ment ex­pert­ise, op­er­a­tions over­sight, and crit­ic­al ad­vice on ad­di­tion­al en­roll­ment chan­nels, field op­er­a­tions, mar­ket­ing and com­mu­nic­a­tions. The Pres­id­ent and I be­lieve strongly in hav­ing one per­son, with strong ex­per­i­ence and ex­pert­ise in man­age­ment and ex­e­cu­tion, who is think­ing 24/7 about Health­Care.gov,” Se­beli­us said in a blog post.

The ini­tial lack of a single point per­son was one of the biggest cri­ti­cisms of the site when it launched. In ad­di­tion to Zi­ents’s role in the ad­min­is­tra­tion, HHS has des­ig­nated QSSI, a sub­si­di­ary of United Health­care, as the lead con­tract­or, co­ordin­at­ing dozens of pro­grams built and main­tained by vari­ous com­pan­ies.

“Second, Kurt will ex­ecute the plan in place, so that we can en­sure the site’s per­form­ance is strong through the close of open en­roll­ment on March 31, 2014,” Se­beli­us said. “This will in­clude a fo­cus on in­creas­ing sys­tem sta­bil­ity, re­dund­ancy and ca­pa­city, and build­ing on im­prove­ments to the user in­ter­face, while con­tinu­ing to pri­or­it­ize se­cur­ity and pri­vacy is­sues in line with in­dustry best prac­tices.”

Since the end of Novem­ber, Health­Care.gov has been re­l­at­ively stable and has worked well for “the vast ma­jor­ity of users” — the stand­ard Zi­ents set when he took over the re­pair ef­fort. Prob­lems still re­main with the site’s trans­mis­sions to states and in­sur­ance com­pan­ies, though those areas have im­proved sig­ni­fic­antly since Oc­to­ber.

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