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Healthcare Business News
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

Sebelius asks for investigation into development of site

By Jessica Zigmond
Posted: December 11, 2013 - 12:15 pm ET

The Obama administration's top health official said it's time for a thorough investigation of to determine what led to the flawed launch of the federal Web portal that consumers use to purchase private health plans.

Testifying Wednesday before the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she believes it's time to better understand both the structural and managerial policies that led to the website's failed roll out now that the website is running more smoothly. To that end, she has asked HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson to investigate the development of, including overall performance and selection, performance and payment of contractors that worked on the system.

Sebelius also asked CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner to create and quickly fill a new position of “chief risk officer” in order to reduce the likelihood of similar fiascos under the agency's watch.

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"I will instruct this officer to look at IT and contracting management practices, starting with, and the risk factors that impeded a successful launch," Sebelius said. "I'll ask for an initial report in the first 60 days with recommendations on how we can mitigate risk as we move forward," she added. "And I've instructed CMS to update and expand their employee training," which said will require best practices for contractor and procurement management rules and procedures, including internal communications and processes.

HHS has obligated $677 million for the information technology costs for through the end of October, and so far the department has spent $319 million of that amount, Sebelius said.

Earlier Wednesday, HHS announced that more than 100,000 individuals chose a private insurance plan through the federal online exchange in November, which is about four times the website's enrollment total in October.

Responding to a question from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Sebelius acknowledged that she might have done some things differently in order to spare millions of Americans a "very frustrating experience" if she knew in early October what she knows now—but she would not have delayed the launch.

"I would have probably done a slower launch maybe with fewer people and done some additional beta testing, which is part of what had happened, frankly, in the early months of the launch to identify what problems we had.”

Follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter: @MHjzigmond

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