Former HHS Secretary calls for simple workaround to exchange problems

The Obama administration must find simple solutions to the complex problem of the glitch-filled health insurance exchange enrollment process, said Michael Leavitt, former U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary.

Leavitt compared the rocky exchange rollout to his agency's oversight of the Medicare Part D launch, suggesting "human needs" must be met before administrative ones. When the Medicare prescription drug benefit launched in 2006, it was criticized for computer glitches, long waits for customer service and consumers incorrectly enrolled in coverage, reported Kaiser Health News.

"The administration needs to come up with the 60 percent workaround," Leavitt, who is now chairman of consulting firm Leavitt Partners, told KHN. "That is, they've got to find a simple way to solve a complex problem, which will have imperfections for everyone."

For example, when people tried to get medications at the pharmacy counter but their names weren't in the computer, Leavitt said, HHS told pharmacies to provide the drugs and then the agency spent up to 18 months working out the problems later.

"It was an expensive proposition and less than ideal. But it allowed the limited number of people who were having problems with the system to have their human needs met," he told KHN. "[Now] they have bigger problems, they have more people, more complexity, so their workaround may not be the exactly same, but that illustrates it."

The same could be true for HHS now if they develop a simple method for enrolling consumers who have faced different roadblocks in their attempts to sign up for a health plan sold on the exchange. For example, glitches have prevented consumers from creating accounts and starting the enrollment process, FierceHealthPayer previously reported. Based on Leavitt's theory, HHS should figure out how to get consumers enrolled as soon as possible and worry about the details later.

To learn more:
- read the Kaiser Health News article