The same day that President Barack Obama met with an all-star group of Silicon Valley tech execs, the Department of Health and Human Services tapped a Microsoft veteran to run the troubled Healthcare.gov through the end of the enrollment period in 2014.
Kurt DelBene, most recently the head of Microsoft’s integral Office division, has been hired to oversee the continued improvement of the online federal health insurance exchange. The exchange, upon which Obama’s signature healthcare reform legislation is based, experienced a disastrous launch back in October. Despite marked improvements, the number of individuals who’ve successfully enrolled in health insurance plans through the site remains anemic when compared to administration projections.
The 21-year Microsoft veteran replaces Jeff Zients, the site’s interim chief who was brought in shortly after Healthcare.gov went live on Oct. 1. After its debut, the site immediately began to suffer from a host of technical errors. Zients moves on to become the director of the National Economic Council.
DelBene has agreed to run the federal exchange through at least the first half of next year, which will carry him through the end of the enrollment period which is scheduled to conclude at the end of March.
“Kurt will provide management expertise, operations oversight, and critical advice on additional enrollment channels, field operations, marketing and communications,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote in a blog post. “The President and I believe strongly in having one person, with strong experience and expertise in management and execution, who is thinking 24/7 about HealthCare.gov.”
Though much improved in the past two months, Healthcare.gov has struggled to meet enrollment goals. Last week, MSNBC reported that only 365,000 Americans had successfully signed up for private insurance through the federal exchange, while another 803,077 were deemed eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Though an improvement over the roughly 50,000 that signed up in October, enrollment is still well below the 3.3 million end-of-year target set by the administration.
The White House boasted major improvements to Healthcare.gov’s user experience earlier this month, noting a 90 percent success rate for people trying to sign-up for health insurance. But those numbers are overshadowed by continued trouble on the backend, where there have been reports of communication difficulties between the federal exchange and private insurers. The miscommunications have led to some people not being enrolled in the insurance plan they selected.
The announcement of DelBene’s new job comes the same day as the president personally met with a who’s-who of Silicon Valley leaders to discuss, among other things, solutions to Healthcare.gov’s performance issues. Those present at the meeting included Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Google Executive Chair Eric Schmidt and Yahoo! President & CEO Marissa Mayer.