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Health Insurance Exchange Plight Isn't IT's Fault

The technical glitches at healthcare.gov have been top of mind this week for the Obama administration and the media. On Monday, The Today Show led with news that President Obama would address the problems as one of its top stories of the day.

There's no question that the roll out of healthcare.gov was flawed, but who is to blame? Many have been quick to blame IT and the government contractor hired to build the website. One of the more humorous press releases I've received in awhile arrived in my mailbox yesterday, from Generation Opportunity, which describes itself as "non-partisan organization advocating for economic opportunity for young people through less government and more freedom."

"Generation Opportunity is proud to announce CGI Federal, the American subsidiary of the Canadian multinational CGI Group and the main contractor behind HealthCare.gov, as the winner of the first ever Youth Defender Award. CGI is recognized for doing more than anyone to date to save young people from the increased costs and privacy invasions of Obamacare."

While Becker's definitely won't be covering the "award," it did make me laugh. As did some ofThe Onion's jabs at the marketplace debacle, which have been making rounds across social media.

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However, Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, writing for Harvard Business Review, argues the failure of healthcare.gov should be on HHS leadership.

"Blaming programmers, coders, and project managers for disgraceful design flaws and technical turmoil is too easy and obvious. Crap rolls downhill. Look deeper. The underlying truth for virtually every large system’s implementation initiative is that success demands leadership and oversight that holds itself accountable for assuring best practice. Good governance, not superior technical chops or ready access to alpha geeks, is how you build complex systems that deliver reliable and resilient value for money."

Investigations into the breakdown uncovered stressed and harried programmers who worked to fulfill last minute requests and meet rollout deadlines.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has received much criticism over the rollout, with the New York Times, calling her "an easy target" for Republicans. It's unclear how closely she was involved in the website development, but regardless of her level of involvement, as head of the department, she is ultimately responsible for ensuring its performance — especially that of its most closely watched initiative in years.

In addition to bringing in IT professionals from around the country to fix healthcare.gov, the White House announced former acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeff Zients, known for his effective performance management, has been brought in to lead improvement efforts, according to The Hill.

Let's hope they work, and work quickly. A delay in the individual mandate would be another ding to hospitals, which are already experiencing the cuts they agreed to in return for more insured patients.

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