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Health care website in review, Sebelius tells House panel

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By McClatchy Newspapers
Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, 7:57 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has asked her department's inspector general, Daniel Levinson, to review the contracting and project management problems that led to the bungled rollout of the website.

The move is one of three initiatives Sebelius announced on Wednesday in a blog post and in testimony before the health subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The directives were advanced on the heels of new figures that show enrollments, though still small, quadrupled from October to November. That enrollment boost gave Sebelius a rare piece of good news to share with Republicans who have criticized the website's performance since its disastrous debut on Oct. 1.

A colossal site repair effort by hundreds of federal and private-sector information technology experts is credited with sparking the November enrollment turnaround, which has helped bring more than 28.4 million visitors to since Oct. 1.

Calling the website's debut “flawed, frustrating and unacceptable,” Sebelius said it's time to review what went wrong.

“I believe strongly in accountability and our obligation as public servants to be good stewards of taxpayers' dollars,” she testified. “Now that the website is working more smoothly, I've determined it's the right time to begin a process to better understand the structural and managerial policies that led to the flawed launch so we can take action and avoid these problems in the future.”

Asked by Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., whether she would have delayed the site launch based on the information she now has, Sebelius said she's “not sure what the right answer is.”

“I would have probably done a slower launch, maybe with fewer people, and done some additional beta testing” to make sure the system was operational, she said.

The federal health secretary testified that HHS has paid $319 million of the $677 million in IT costs to set up the online insurance marketplace.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill, challenged the accuracy of the latest figures showing 365,000 new marketplace enrollees.

Shimkus said the number was “fraudulent” because it wasn't clear how many of the enrollees had actually paid for coverage. Sebelius pointed out that payments aren't due until the end of December for coverage to begin on Jan. 1.

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