Former Microsoft exec takes lead in mending healthcare.gov issues

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Kurt DelBene, who most recently served as president of the Microsoft Office Division, will now manage healthcare.gov in the midst of its revamp to address performance and security issues.

DelBene officially took on the role on Wednesday, a day after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the appointment on the HHS site. He replaced Jeff Zients, who will soon become President Obama's chief economic advisor.

After its Oct. 1 launch, users reported issues enrolling in health plans via the site, which was eventually found to be wracked with bugs affecting its usability. Security experts soon began to highlight a number of serious issues with the site, which could leave it vulnerable to attack and potentially expose American's sensitive health and personal information to theft and misuse.

In the role, DelBene has agreed to maintain management of the site for at least the first half of 2014, Secretary Sebelius said.

“First, Kurt will provide management expertise, operations oversight, and critical advice on additional enrollment channels, field operations, marketing and communications,” Sebelius wrote in the announcement, adding that DelBene will “ensure the site's performance is strong through the close of open enrollment on March 31, 2014.”

“This will include a focus on increasing system stability, redundancy and capacity, and building on improvements to the user interface, while continuing to prioritize security and privacy issues in line with industry best practices,” Sebelius said.

Rectifying healthcare.gov's issues has been an effort that the Obama administration has scrambled to work out after the site's shaky launch, but security experts believe that it's complex problems will require time to be properly addressed.

Avivah Litan, vice president and distinguished analyst at research firm Gartner, has written about the extensive issues impacting the site, and suggested that officials should “cut their losses…and admit they need to get the system overhauled and rewritten.”

In a Wednesday interview, Litan said that the former Microsoft exec brings experience that would be fitting for healthcare.gov, considering the immense number of users the site serves.

“They definitely need someone that understands commercial, industrial strength web software that knows how to cater to tens of millions of people,” Litan said, later speculating that DelBene could probably get the site “up and running, and creaking along,” from a usability perspective, but that “once he gets familiar with what's been done, he's going to have it rewritten.”

According to reports, healthcare.gov received a significant amount of attention on Tuesday during Obama's planned meeting with execs from major tech companies, including Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Despite the fact that tech leaders convened to discuss the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, and the need for reform, news outlets, such as the UK's Daily Mail and CNN, reported that some attendees were dismayed with how the discussion drifted to the site's issues.

On Tuesday, a vice president of one of the attending companies told the Daily Mail that healthcare.gov concerns “wasn't what we came for.”

“We really didn't care for a PR pitch about how the administration is trying to salvage its internal health care tech nightmare,” the source said.

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