With the shaky rollout of Healthcare.gov still dominating the news cycle and congressional hearings, it was only a matter of time before the related agencies’ leadership started playing musical chairs.
A Medicare official who played an integral role in the development of the federal health insurance exchange has resigned, according to an email sent earlier this week to Medicare employees. Tony Trenkle is the chief information officer for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the agency that oversaw the construction of the Affordable Care Act’s website. He’ll officially leave his post on Nov. 15 to take a job in the private sector.
Trenkle’s resignation is not necessarily linked to the glitch-plagued launch of Healthcare.gov, but the timing of this announcement along with his role in the site’s development has many inferring that this could be the first government official to lose their job over issue. Healthcare.gov is the primary vessel through which ACA is expected to cover some 14 million presently uninsured Americans, but due to technical difficulties, only six people were able to sign up for health care in the first 24 hours the site was online.
As the CMS chief information officer, Trenkle was the direct supervisor of Henry Chao, a deputy chief information officer at the agency whose name was brought up repeatedly during congressional hearings as a source of many key HealthCare.gov decisions.
Reuters reports that Chao was a frequent White House visitor and the person responsible for the decision to have users create registered accounts before being able to browse insurance plans. This decision, which runs counter to the practice of many other online retailers like Amazon, was made just two weeks before the Oct. 1 launch and has presented a significant technical stumbling block. Chao remains employed with the CMS.
According to his CMS bio, Trenkle was life-long government worker, previously employed by Medicare, the General Services Administration, and the Social Security Administration.
Medicare spokeswoman Julie Bataille told reporters that the agency was “certainly grateful for his service here.” But according to Ezra Klein at the Washington Post, when pressed to answer whether Trenkle was asked to leave the agency, she would only say, “Tony made a decision that he was going to move to the private sector and that is what our [chief operating officer] announced yesterday.”
Healthcare.gov, which launched a little over a month ago, has been plagued with errors from the start. Freezes and timeouts were just the tip of the iceberg. Subsequently, it’s been revealed that the site’s development was possibly delayed for political reasons, causing programmers to used unattributed code and not fully vet the portal for security.
Though Trenkle is the first government official associated with Healthcare.gov to step down, much of the heat for the website’s sloppy execution has rested on the shoulders of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius retains her cabinet post, despite telling the House government oversight committee that she’s “accountable to you for fixing these problems.”
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