Administration Asks Verizon for Help With Obamacare Site

Monday, 21 Oct 2013 10:08 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Telecom giant Verizon has been recruited by the government to fix the problem-plagued federal health exchange, USA Today reported Monday night.

On its website, the newspaper quoted an unnamed source saying the Department of Health and Human Services had asked Verizon's Enterprise Solutions division to improve the performance of the Healthcare.gov site.

Healthcare.gov is the portal for potential applicants for the new Affordable Care Act in 36 states — but problems have stymied customers and drawn derision from Obamacare opponents.

The Health and Human Services office promised it was "bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in" and quickly solve Healthcare.gov's problems.

Neither HHS nor Verizon commented to USA Today.

"There is an existing 'best and brightest' available to call in," Aneesh Chopra, the Obama administration's former chief technology officer and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told USA Today.

"Verizon is one of those already under contract."

But Clark Kelso, the chief information officer under California Govs. Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, only gave even odds of a fix.

"They've got a short window here to try to fix things," Kelso said. "Simply throwing a lot of new programmers at something like this does not guarantee success."

According to Verizon's website, they have business customers in more than 150 countries — and also works for HHS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on other information technology contracts, USA Today reported.

"They are people who already know the government process," said Chopra.

Chopra said the government's data hub seems to be working and "these are known issues. There isn't a tech expert with a Superman cape soaring in to fix this issue, nor is that needed."

The federal site, Kelso said, seems to have communication issues between the states and insurers.

"To a user, it can look like the system is not processing my information; it'd be like Amazon never confirming a payment you've made," he said.

The larger problem, according to Michael Crandell, CEO of RightScale, which helps larger organizations on cloud computing projects, is that the site's problems may taint perceptions of the law itself.

"This kind of problem has been around since the earliest days of the Internet," Crandell said. "Sites getting so much response that they stop working. We call that a 'success disaster.' I'm sure they will fix it.

"What is worrying is that problems with this site are being extrapolated to suggest problems with the actual law."

Reuters reported roughly half a million Americans have applied for health insurance through new federal- and state-run exchanges.

The Healthcare.gov's website has been hobbled by technical issues — including error messages, garbled text, and delays loading pages — that administration officials blame partly on an unexpectedly high volume of 14.6 million visitors in its first several days of activity.

An administration official told Reuters that among the roughly half a million applicants, more than half lived in states where the federal government was administering the health exchanges in full or in part.

Official figures from October activity are not due until next month.


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