By Karen Pallarito
FRIDAY, Oct. 25 (HealthDay News) -- The Obama administration on Friday said it has tapped one of its website contractors to manage the overall effort to fix HealthCare.gov., the new federal health insurance marketplace.
Quality Software Services Inc. (QSSI), a Columbia, Md.-based unit of UnitedHealth Group, will work through a "punch list" of problems identified in an assessment led by President Barack Obama's soon-to-be economic adviser Jeffrey Zients, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Zients, who is assisting in the effort to fix the troubled marketplace, said his team of private sector and government experts has identified a range of "performance problems" affecting the speed, response and reliability of HealthCare.gov, as well as "functional problems" resulting from bugs in the software.
Despite its troubled track record, "HealthCare.gov is fixable," Zients insisted during a Friday afternoon news conference.
The marketplaces -- or "exchanges" -- are the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration's controversial health care-reform package. The federal exchange is where uninsured Americans in 36 states may sign up for coverage.
In its new oversight role, QSSI will "prioritize the needed fixes and make sure they get done," Zients said.
"There will be a relentless focus on speed and execution to work through the punch list," he said. "Each week, the site will get better as we make the necessary fixes, and by the end of November HealthCare.gov will work smoothly for the vast majority of users."
QSSI is one of a number of vendors hired by the U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicaid Services to work on HealthCare.gov. Much of its work involved developing the so-called pipeline that transfers data between the marketplace and various data sources. The company also played a role in testing HealthCare.gov.
Terms of QSSI's new contract were not disclosed. Julie Bataille, director of the office of communications at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said an existing contract with the company is currently being modified.
Nearly half of the 700,000 applications to state and federal marketplaces that have been filed to date have come through the federal marketplace, she said.
Separately, online data tracking service comScore reported on Thursday that traffic to HealthCare.gov "has steadily and dramatically declined" since a spike of 2.5 million unique visitors on Oct. 1.
Since Oct. 10, there have been no more than 500,000 unique visitors to the site each day, and the numbers continue to trend downward. However, the percentage of visitors to the site who successfully logged in jumped from 2 percent in the first week of open enrollment to 22 percent in the third week.
The company also noted an increase in the number of visitors successfully creating accounts and initiating applications.
"HealthCare.gov is allowing people now to complete the application and enrollment process," Bataille said. And as improvements are made each week, "People will be able to apply by December 15th in order to get coverage by January 1st."
To learn how to apply for health-plan coverage, visit HealthCare.gov.