OIG: Feds failed to address Healthcare.gov troubles until it was too late

A rushed, inadequate response to clear signs that Healthcare.gov was headed for trouble contributed to its ill-fated launch in 2013, according to a newly released, five-year study from the Office of Inspector General (OIG).

To gather information for its study, the OIG interviewed 86 current and former Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) officials, staff and contractors involved with the website. Additionally, the agency reviewed thousands of HHS and CMS documents, including management reports, internal correspondence and website development contracts.

OIG found that the rough launch of Healthcare.gov was mainly due to poor management and leadership, which caused a lack of clarity with project tasks and delays in decision-making. Additionally, officials spent too much time on policymaking, which led to less time devoted to website development.

The Obama administration's heavy involvement also didn't help, as a deputy director at CMS' Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight said in the report. "There was constant contact with the White House.The White House was in charge," the official said. 

Even though it was warned repeatedly about the website's shortcomings, CMS continued down the failing path and made insufficient corrections that were often rushed, the report adds.

Only when the site actually launched did CMS take aggressive steps to correct the problems, OIG adds. Factors that helped rescue the website included adopting a "badgeless" culture in which all CMS staff and contractors worked collaboratively, the report said. They "aligned work efforts with the most important and achievable goals" and after two months of intensive recovery, CMS was able to adopt more effective organizational practices. 

The report also notes that the second enrollment period went much smoother, and CMS improved navigation tools to engage consumers to access additional information without leaving the home page.

This is not the first OIG report to assess how the federal government handled the launch of Healthcare.gov. A report from the agency in January 2015 criticized how CMS handled the contractors it used to develop the site. Former HHS Secretary Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had asked OIG to review the site's troubled launch in 2013.

To learn more:
- read the OIG study (.pdf)

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