By Louise Radnofsky
WASHINGTON--The contractor tapped to rescue the flailing
HealthCare.gov in the fall of 2013 declared its job finished
Thursday and said it doesn't plan to continue overseeing the
website that sells subsidized insurance to millions of Americans as
part of the federal health law.
"Having achieved the goal of making HealthCare.gov a stable and
reliable platform for people seeking coverage, Optum will not rebid
to continue the role of senior adviser," said Matt Stearns, a
spokesman for the company, the technology unit of insurer
UnitedHealth Group. "Our job has been completed."
Optum's contract with the federal government to oversee the site
is worth around $40 million a year and will end in July, although
the company may remain working on the project for a transition
period after that date.
HealthCare.gov's launch in October 2013 was marked by serious
technical problems that forced the Obama administration to change
the way it was implementing the law itself. It also mounted an
all-out effort to get the website working on a basic level by
Thanksgiving of that year.
The website is the main platform created by the health law to
provide insurance to people who don't have it through an employer
or government program such as Medicare. HealthCare.gov serves
people in three dozen states that declined to operate their own
portals. It verifies income, immigration status and other personal
information to determine consumers' eligibility for tax credits to
offset the cost of premiums. It then displays health plans
available in a particular area, and lets consumers sign up and
transmits that information back to the insurance companies.
Optum, one of dozens of contractors working on the various parts
of the site, was appointed to oversee them all in the repair
effort. The push led to an improved site for the first sign-up
period that ended in March 2014. The company was retained for the
second sign-up window that opened November 2014 and closed for most
Americans earlier this year. HealthCare.gov performed significantly
better the second time around.
Optum had made the decision to step aside because it wanted to
be able to focus on other work, Mr. Stearns said.
"We're grateful for the opportunity to have worked on a project
as important as HealthCare.gov," he said. "By no longer acting as
senior adviser to HealthCare.gov, Optum can seek to assist in other
projects and leverage our ability to develop and operate large
transactional systems that advance heath care."
A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,
which oversees the website and its contractors, didn't immediately
Optum was "confident that HealthCare.gov will remain a stable
and reliable platform," Mr. Stearns said. The company would
continue to operate the site's data services hub and identity
management systems, as well as to work with several states that had
their own sites, he added.
Federal officials widely praised the company for its work fixing
HealthCare.gov. Andy Slavitt, a group executive vice president at
Optum, left the company and took on a formal role within the
federal government in the summer of 2014. He is now the acting
administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid
Some Republican members of Congress have raised questions about
the transition, noting that CMS regulates Optum's insurance parent
company as well as its technology unit.
Enrollment workers who have been using HealthCare.gov frequently
to sign up the uninsured say the systemwide problems have been
fixed, though glitches arise from time to time.
Elizabeth Colvin, director of Insure Central Texas, said that
remaining problems typically stem from complicated situations such
as very low-income, legal immigrants who have different eligibility
for financial assistance than their U.S.-born counterparts. But
more broadly, she said, the biggest challenges remaining for the
system rest on the intricacies of the law's various rules for
eligibility to users.
"You still have to understand how the law works," she said.
Write to Louise Radnofsky at firstname.lastname@example.org
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