To oversee that effort, the CMS appointed Quality Software Solutions Inc. (QSSI)—the UnitedHealth Group business unit that is one of the contractors currently working on HealthCare.gov—as general contractor. Julie Bataille, director of communications at the CMS, said QSSI has “done a good job in their work with the federal data hub” used in the online marketplace and that contract details are not final yet.
According to Zients, QSSI as a general contractor will ensure that all of the involved players—including CMS leadership and the contractors working on the website—will execute at a very high standard to make changes and improvements to the system quickly.
“Each week it will get better,” Zients said. “We are confident that by the end of the month of November, HealthCare.gov will run smoothly for the vast majority of users.”
In a hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday, a representative for CGI Federal, one of the contractors working on HealthCare.gov, said she was confident that consumers would be able to enroll more quickly and efficiently by Dec. 15. On Friday, Zients pledged that continual improvements on the site each week, along with the addition of a general contractor, will lead to a better experience for insurance shoppers ahead of that mid-December date. Consumers must apply by Dec. 15 in order to have coverage by Jan. 1.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner will get their chance to explain the flawed federal exchange rollout next week when they appear before Congress in separate House hearings. Tavenner will testify before the House Ways and Means Committee on Tues., Oct. 29, and Sebelius is scheduled to appear the next day before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Prepared testimony was not available from either CMS or HHS as of Friday.
Reform supporters like Dan Mendelson, CEO and founder of consulting firm Avalere Health, recommended Tavenner and Sebelius should acknowledge that mistakes have been made with HealthCare.gov, but then pivot rapidly to a focus on the marketplace that offers competitive health plans in all 50 states for the first time. He also said that if lawmakers grill the two health officials about the website's technical issues, Tavenner and Sebelius should emphasize that call centers and brokers are available to help consumers apply. He noted that there has been so much attention on the federal website, but that people have enrolled in part B and supplemental insurance for 40 years without applying online.
And new research from Mendelson's group released Friday could arm Tavenner and Sebelius with some positive information when they face lawmakers next week: Avalere's analysis (PDF) found that the number of applications submitted so far for coverage in the exchanges (the CMS has said the figure is nearly 700,000) has exceeded comparable enrollment in Medicare part D over the same time period during each program's launch.
“The administration is actually ahead of the pace that was set in Part D,” Mendelson told Modern Healthcare. “Enrollment is going better than Medicare part D enrollment. As long as they have the technical difficulties figured out by the end of the year, they're fine.”