Will a Shake-up at the Top Give the Obamacare Website a Much-Needed Boost?

It's been a little more than five weeks since the live launch of Obamacare's health insurance exchanges, and, speaking for the majority of folks who've attempted to navigate the glitch-filled federal website, it's been a nightmare.

Internal memos released to date show that a meager 248 people were able to complete full enrollment in an insurance plan during the first two days of the federally managed Healthcare.gov's operation. State-run health exchanges have certainly fared better, which would be expected with numerous contractors being targeted to build those systems and personalized attention given to each state's varying problems.

Who's to blame?
The real focus has turned to what should be done to fix the plague-filled Healthcare.gov, which services 36 states, and who's to blame for not getting things right in the first place.

Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. Source: Center for American Progress Action Fund on Flickr.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has taken a lot of heat for her role in the rollout of the website. Although we've heard plenty of political banter from both sides, the potential that regulators knew well in advance that the website wasn't properly tested to handle the influx of traffic that was expected when it launched has people fairly upset. As she's the head of the agency ultimately in charge of the program, that frustration is landing heavily on Sebelius, who's been testifying over the past week about what she knew then and what she knows now.

The finger-pointing is not stopping at Sebelius. Yesterday, per The New York Times, the Obama administration announced that the chief information officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Tony Trenkle, would retire from his post on Nov. 15 to take a position in the private sector. Trenkle's CMS division was an overseer to the development of Healthcare.gov, and his departure appears to mark the beginning of a shake-up of top officials linked to the failed website launch. 

This won't solve the problem
The big question then becomes: Could a shake-up at HHS and CMS improve confidence in Obamacare's website and finally make clear who's really to blame for this mess?

Personally, I'm not inclined to believe so. I continue to feel that the onus of blame -- but also the possibility of redemption -- lies solely with the contractors and subcontractors who developed Healthcare.gov and not with the officials who seem to be at the center of this debacle.

Front and center is CGI Group (NYSE: GIB  ) which was the lead architect behind Healthcare.gov. CGI has certainly been raked over the coals since Oct. 1 for a number of reasons, outside of simply being the primary developer of a site that has failed to live up to expectations. The Canadian company has been criticized for being chosen as the head contractor even though eHealth canceled its contractual agreement with CGI Group in September 2012 to develop a diabetes registry in Ontario for purportedly failing to meet multiple deadlines. CGI has blamed Health and Human Services officials for not properly testing the Obamacare website prior to its launch, but that lower the company's responsibility for the situation. As I've stated previously, CGI has the tools and certainly the teamwork to fix these issues, but the PR damage may be done with regard to future orders received.

UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH  ) subsidiary Optum, which owns Quality Software Services, or QSSI, is also receiving its share of blame. The company was an intermediary party whose software was used to verify that health care plans met the stringent requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Optum Group Executive Vice President Andrew Slavitt testified that its Data Services Hub was functioning properly upon launch of Healthcare.gov, but encountered issues because it had to interface with connections from multiple other contractors. UnitedHealth Group is large enough that it won't see much of a share price bump in either direction from QSSI's involvement, but as witth CGI Group the situation has the potential to stymie future orders.

Coming to the rescue
While the launch of Healthcare.gov hasn't gone as planned for CGI Group and UnitedHealth Group's QSSI, the opportunity to fix the laundry list of problems by the end of November -- the established time until the majority of people will be able to use the website with ease, according to Jeffrey Zients, the former acting Office of Management and Budget chief who has been called on to fix the Healthcare.gov mess -- could be a redeeming factor for both companies.

In addition to CGI and UnitedHealth Group, a trio of tech behemoths has stepped up to the challenge of helping navigate through Healthcare.gov's woes.

Although CGI Group clearly knows the ins and outs of its website architecture best, officials have asked Oracle (NYSE: ORCL  ) , Red Hat (NYSE: RHT  ) , and Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) to help diagnose and suggest fixes.

Both Oracle and Red Hat are masters of middleware, which ultimately involves managing data between multiple software applications and servers and the end user, or the health insurance consumer in this case. Obviously, the federal exchange has a problem between getting the information from the user, through the identification process, and into insurers' hands. Oracle and Red Hat should be able to use their expertise to hone in on these problems and supply a series of fixes.

Google has had incredible success in building a global network that's both secure and practically without flaws. The thought here for Health and Human Services is to bring in a company that can apply that source-code know-how to Healthcare.gov's fix.

The waiting game
The truth, of course, is that we still don't know if the Obamacare website will be fixed by the end of November, or if the deadline will pass without an adequate solution. One thing I would contend, though, is that changing the top officials in charge of Healthcare.gov isn't going to fix the problem any quicker. Despite the urge to point your finger at Sebelius or a number of other officials, the ultimate responsibility of the website lies with the software architects that built it. This is their moment to shine or go down fighting.

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Read/Post Comments (16) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 07, 2013, at 2:49 PM, lightnin001 wrote:

    Trenkle got fired for being unable to spin it to get Obummer and his accomplices off the hook!

  • Report this Comment On November 07, 2013, at 2:51 PM, lightnin001 wrote:

    See, they don't know how to FIX the situation, so they want spin to deflect the blame!

  • Report this Comment On November 07, 2013, at 3:04 PM, jammer255 wrote:

    "Will a Shake-up at the Top Give the Obamacare Website a Much-Needed Boost?"...( NO )...they just wanted to point their finger at someone to be the fall guy, Patsy, Brown nosier...it's always someone else's fault, never theirs, they will go back to the drawing boards & come up with some other lame way to control our health.

  • Report this Comment On November 07, 2013, at 3:18 PM, Patriot1 wrote:

    Why didn't the goverment hire Google and Oracle in the beginning in the first place? Hmmmnn...

  • Report this Comment On November 07, 2013, at 3:35 PM, mewp12 wrote:

    The problem is not the website, or who is responsible for it. The entire plan is bad. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Report this Comment On November 07, 2013, at 3:37 PM, SkepikI wrote:

    One might consider, though it is not often seriously discussed, that the website is the least of their worries (and yours). The website is a tangible thing and getting it right is executable as evidenced by numerous other effective sites more complex than healthcare.gov Getting the policies right and managing sensitive data are much more complex than the simple thing they can't seem to get right.

    The HEW crew including their out of her depth leader have made many other much more significant mistakes which may or may not be fixable. At least two examples:

    - The Navigators who take your confidential and sensitive information have not been vetted or background checked. Odds are some have questionable or even criminal backgrounds.

    - HEW has made NO allowance for religious or moral objections to their fixed and rigid mandates, and they are being sued over it. They have several injunctions imposed on them over it. They have willy-nilly ignored their constitutional duties and oaths.

    Its like the scam roofer who comes to your house to sell you on a new roof with no truck, no references and no stock contract. If you can't even get the simple stuff right, what can you expect from them on the complicated stuff?

  • Report this Comment On November 07, 2013, at 4:06 PM, Loxly wrote:

    The fault does lay at the top. It's called Requirements! When requirements keep changing you go into constant re-write. That's what the Obamanation, via HHS/CMS did. I know. I worked on several programs for both HHS and the VA. This is the gov't verson of the Winchester House.

  • Report this Comment On November 07, 2013, at 4:07 PM, SkepikI wrote:

    Furthermore, the premise of forcing someone to be healthy is bound for the rocks of involuntary servitude

  • Report this Comment On November 07, 2013, at 6:09 PM, TerrifiedCitizen wrote:

    I think it's being overly kind to say that pretty much every time we give the govt oversight of any fund or program that concerns our money, they have done an exceptionally poor job.

    Why would we allow them to bungle something as critical and as personal as our healthcare?

  • Report this Comment On November 08, 2013, at 7:28 AM, Widowmaker6 wrote:

    this is a bad law - no amount of tinkering can fix it

  • Report this Comment On November 08, 2013, at 7:47 AM, Mathman6577 wrote:

    The web site issues are the LEAST of the problems w/ the ACA. Wait until the law really takes effect next year (and beyond).

  • Report this Comment On November 08, 2013, at 7:55 AM, guysisson wrote:

    What a sad situation this inept administration had created for our once great country. This was the straw that broke the camel's back.

  • Report this Comment On November 08, 2013, at 8:07 AM, PigletOctopi wrote:

    "Could a shake-up at HHS and CMS improve confidence in Obamacare's website and finally make clear who's really to blame for this mess?"

    I blame Mrs. Obama for hiring her friends. If she had hired a US company it would have been done right and jobs for us instead of a Canadian firm that has a bad record to begin with.

  • Report this Comment On November 08, 2013, at 9:50 AM, mdk0611 wrote:

    Blame the contractors and subcontractors? Who HIRED them. Who hired them with no-bid contracts? Is there no culpability on their part?

    On the unconfirmed rumor front, do you know if it's true that one of the reasons for the software glitches is that the site was originally set up to allow browsing policies without registration and administrative officials insisted it be changed to require registration?

  • Report this Comment On November 08, 2013, at 11:01 AM, TXObjectivist75 wrote:

    So you'd blame the crappy contractor you hired for putting a roof with holes on it on your house, even though you hired him after seeing him mess up your neighbor's roof? No culpability of your own?

  • Report this Comment On November 08, 2013, at 6:58 PM, oldmac wrote:

    since when can anyone get a contract approve by the gov. without bids only in the Obama adminatration

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