WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s new health secretary moved swiftly on Friday to shore up administration oversight of Obamacare with a series of management changes to address weaknesses blamed for last year’s crash of the federal website, HealthCare.gov.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell named Optum executive Andy Slavitt, who oversaw day-to-day contractor operations to fix the faulty website, to a new No. 2 post at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), giving him authority for policy and coordination between the agency’s programs.
Healthcare experts welcomed the appointment of Slavitt, a Wharton School and Harvard-educated manager, as a choice who would improve relations with the private sector across a range of initiatives. They include efforts to shift the Medicare program for the elderly and disabled away from costly fee-for-service medicine.
Burwell also announced the creation of a new chief executive position to oversee the federal government’s private health insurance exchange, as well as a permanent marketplace chief technology officer.
“These actions will bolster our team and further instill ongoing accountability for reaching milestones, measuring results and delivering results for the American people,” Burwell said in a statement that came two weeks after she was confirmed in her job by the U.S. Senate.
Administration officials said the management changes are part of a new initiative to attract top talent to the Department of Health and Human Services, which hopes to have the two high-profile vacancies filled well before open enrollment resumes on Nov. 15.
CMS, the agency responsible for implementing Obama’s healthcare law, has been widely blamed for missteps that led to last year’s botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, the federal marketplace portal for millions of new health insurance policyholders in 36 states.
Critics blamed a lack of CMS management oversight for the debacle, which pushed Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement to the brink of failure before an emergency rescue operation salvaged the website from paralyzing technical problems and enabled millions of Americans to obtain subsidized private health coverage.
Burwell’s creation of a marketplace CTO makes permanent the tech czar role filled temporarily by Obama adviser Jeffrey Zients and former Microsoft executive Kurt Delbene, who is leaving at the end of this month.
Some administration allies, including former Obama adviser Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel and the Center for American Progress think tank, have seen the appointment of a new marketplace CEO as crucial to the long-term success of the policy.
“All of this speaks of a completely different attitude and structure and strategic vision,” Emanuel told Reuters. “It sets them up to rethink HealthCare.gov and make Medicare a better, more innovative operation, with better partnering with the private sector on innovation.”
HHS said the marketplace CEO would be responsible for leading the federal marketplace, managing relationships with state marketplaces and running the CMS Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, which regulates health insurance at the federal level.
The job will report to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, with a dotted line to Burwell.
Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Eric Beech, Susan Heavey and Dan Grebler