Sebelius calls for probe of HealthCare.gov

Lauren Schneiderman

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Monday that her inspector general will investigate the botched launch of the HealthCare.gov website.

“We need a thorough review of the contractor performance and program management structure that resulted in the flawed launch of the website,” Sebelius wrote in a blog post. “I am asking the inspector general to review the acquisition process, overall program management and contractor performance and payment issues related to the development and management of the HealthCare.gov website.”

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Sebelius informed lawmakers of the investigation during testimony Wednesday in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

While the front-end of the website is running better for consumers trying to access healthcare plans, the problem-plagued launch put HHS behind in its enrollment targets, tanked President Obama’s approval numbers and has been a massive political embarrassment for Democrats.

In hearings on Capitol Hill, the contractors and administration officials have taken turns blaming one another for the bungled launch. Sebelius indicated the investigation would focus on the contractors paid to build and service the website.

“Today I am announcing a series of initial steps in the process of better understanding the structural and managerial policies that led to the flawed launch,” Sebelius wrote. “These actions will also focus on our work with contractors. This is critical, because HHS is the third largest federal contracting agency, and [The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, or CMS] alone spent $5.3 billion in 2013 on IT contracting engagements.

"We must take steps to ensure that our contractors are well managed, and that they fulfill their commitments and provide good services and products for our tax dollars.”

Sebelius and other officials have themselves been in the hot seat, as members of both parties have called for heads to roll over the launch. To date, no one has lost their job.

“I believe strongly in the need for accountability and in the importance of being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Sebelius said in her blog post.

The secretary also announced that HHS would hire a chief risk officer, a full time, permanent position that will focus on “mitigating risk across CMS’s programs.” In addition, she said CMS would implement new training initiatives for contractors and employees.

About 260,000 people picked out private health plans under ObamaCare in November, bringing the total number of enrollments to about 365,000, HHS announced on Wednesday.

While November’s figures are an improvement over the 106,000 who picked out a plan in October, the administration is well behind its original goal of having 800,000 people signed up through the state and federal exchanges in the first two months.

In addition, problems on the back-end of the website persist. HealthCare.gov botched as many as one in four enrollment transmissions to insurance companies in the months of October and November.

That means about 30,000 applications will have to be re-evaluated before the end of the year.

Sebelius may be launching this review due to congressional pressure. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) spearheaded a letter, signed by 16 Democratic senators, that called on the HHS inspector general to investigate the federal portal in November.

This report was updated at 11:53 a.m.