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Under Further Scrutiny, Obamacare Website Gets CEO

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, HHS secretary

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, HHS secretary // J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The HealthCare.gov website on Tuesday got an official leader, the same day the health agency’s auditor published the first in a series of reports on the contracts involved in the federal health insurance marketplace.

As the new marketplace CEO, Kevin Counihan will be responsible for the federal site, which serves residents of states that opted not to create their own online insurance marketplaces.

Counihan was CEO of Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, which is one of the most successful state marketplaces and the first to exceed enrollment goals laid out in the health care law. Nine states have asked to use the the Connecticut exchange's technology, according to a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services.

In his new role, Counihan will manage relationships with state exchanges and run an oversight center, HHS said. He will report to Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. CMS oversees HealthCare.gov.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Counihan “will be a clear, single point of contact for streamlined decision-making.”

The appointment is part of the department's answer to criticism that management failures resulted in the website’s botched launch last October.

Report: 20 HealthCare.gov Contracts Exceed Initial Cost Estimates

“There was confusion about who had the authority to approve contractor requests to expend funds for additional work,” the Government Accountability Office said in recent report.  

HHS’ inspector general’s office Tuesday published the first of a series of reports on the contracts involved in the federal effort to support HealthCare.gov and the state marketplaces. The series’ initial installment does not have any recommendations, but simply establishes basic facts: Sixty contracts were involved in the project, 20 of them exceeded their initial cost estimates and seven cost more than twice their original estimates. CMS had obligated nearly $800 million for the federal marketplace as of February, the report said.

The contracting reports are part of a larger review of how HHS developed and has operated the federal marketplace. “This body of work will include reviews of the planning, acquisition, management and performance oversight of federal marketplace contracts, as well as various aspects of federal marketplace operations,” the report said.

Responding to the report, CMS said it is aggressively implementing contracting reforms, “including setting up a new task force to develop a programwide view of the cost of the marketplace, bringing in new leadership to oversee marketplace operations, hiring a systems integrator and ending our largest contract” and replacing it with one that rewards performance.

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