Acquisition

Obama talks IT procurement

President Obama in the Oval Office (White House Photo)

President Barack Obama said he plans to look at the way the federal government buys technology after problems at the HealthCare.gov website marred the launch of open enrollment for insurance under the 2010 health care law.

"I, personally, have been frustrated with the problems around the website on health care," he told a small group of supporters at a political event in New York City on Nov. 4. "And it's inexcusable, and there are a whole range of things that we're going to need to do once we get this fixed -- to talk about federal procurement when it comes to IT and how that's organized."

HealthCare.gov had suffered a 90-minute outage earlier the same day because of an overload on servers and a load balancing problem, according to Andy Slavitt,  group executive vice president at Optum, the parent division of Quality Software Services Inc., the lead contractor heading up fixes to HealthCare.gov.

"We expect these occasional outages are likely to continue as a natural part of the process," Slavitt said on a call with reporters.

The contractors and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are working on a tight deadline as part of a "tech surge" to put the site in working order by Nov. 30. Former administration official and health care entrepreneur Jeff Zients is leading an effort to apply a "punch list" of fixes to problems plaguing site operation. Over the weekend, the team began addressing an issue affecting the way health insurance enrollment information is transmitted to insurance carriers. Thee enrollment forms, called 834s in the insurance industry, had been arriving with bad information. Recent fixes include making sure 834s include correct health insurance plan identification numbers and customer contact information.

Another repair put the "save and continue" button in working condition, to allow users to easily log in and out of the site. Verizon Terremark, the cloud provider hosting HealthCare.gov, installed dedicated switches to prevent further outages and improve system stability.

The problems with the site do not appear to be a result of intrusions or other security vulnerabilities, said CMS spokesperson Julie Bataille. "There's no evidence to suggest security has to do with issues we are currently experiencing," she said.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is a staff writer covering Congress, the FCC and other key agencies. Connect with him on Twitter: @thisismaz.

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