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VOL. 129 | NO. 8 | Monday, January 13, 2014

Feds Won't Renew Health Website's Lead Contractor

RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR | Associated Press

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The government's much-maligned health insurance website is getting a new outside contractor to steer the revamped portal through the remainder of open enrollment season.

The Obama administration and lead website contractor CGI Federal said Friday they had mutually agreed to part ways on HealthCare.gov. The site's launch Oct. 1 embarrassed President Barack Obama and prompted a frantic reconstruction campaign. It largely works well now.

Government officials had little to say.

CGI's current contract will not be renewed after February, a person familiar with the situation said Friday. The person requested anonymity because of federal rules regarding the privacy of contractors.

Instead, the administration intends to hire Accenture, a major technology consulting company, to run the federal website serving 36 states.

CGI spokeswoman Linda Odorisio said in a statement that the company played a key role in turning the website around, and that it remains a federal contractor on other health care projects.

"We are proud that more than 400 CGI employees worked around the clock from October through December to deliver a consumer experience that works for a vast majority of Americans," she said.

The White House had hoped the website would make buying health insurance under the new law as easy as online shopping. Instead, HealthCare.gov choked up the day it was launched. Although hundreds of thousands of people tried to sign up, only a handful actually succeeded.

At first the administration said the problem was not enough equipment to handle a high level of consumer interest. But major software and design flaws quickly emerged. For example, unlike most e-commerce sites, HealthCare.gov had no way for prospective customers to browse health plans without first opening an account. That only created more computing work for the overwhelmed system.

The administration later acknowledged that the site was down 60 percent of the time in October.

White House troubleshooter Jeffrey Zients managed to turn things around by the end of November. Since then, more than 1 million people have signed up for coverage, and when state-run websites are counted, enrollments total more than 2 million.

So far, senior administration officials have escaped any retribution for the debacle.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she was surprised by the extent of the problems with her department's biggest project. Republicans have called for her resignation, but Obama seems to be sticking with her.

Two senior HHS officials involved with the website have left since the launch, but their departures don't seem directly connected to the problems. One had postponed retirement in order to help with the health care law and was praised by department leaders. The other had been looking to move to private industry.

CGI and other contractors have told Congress that they didn't get enough time to properly test the system ahead of the administration's Oct. 1 deadline for launching it.

Open enrollment season for the health care law's government subsidized private insurance ends March 31.

The decision not to renew CGI's contract was first reported by The Washington Post.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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