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Repaired health website promised by Nov. 30

Administration names new group to manage project

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Friday that it would fix problems in the federal health insurance marketplace by Nov. 30, just two weeks before the deadline to sign up for coverage to replace health insurance policies being canceled because they do not meet new federal standards.

To help meet that schedule, the Obama administration, in an abrupt shift, named a “general contractor” Friday to fix the troubled website of the federal marketplace.

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Such a condensed schedule raises the question of how hundreds of thousands of people whose current policies do not comply with the health law will obtain new coverage in time.

Jeffrey D. Zients, President Obama’s troubleshooter on the project, said the general contractor, Quality Software Services Inc., a unit of the UnitedHealth Group, would “manage the overall effort,” like a general contractor on a home improvement project. Notably, that company had a role in developing one of the most troubled components of the marketplace, which helped verify the identities of those registering.

Until now, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, led by Marilyn B. Tavenner, served as the quarterback, trying to coordinate the work of dozens of contractors.

Outside experts said the agency did not have the expertise or resources to be the “system integrator” for such a complex, ambitious project. Two people involved in the effort said the schedule for repairs was aggressive.

But Zients, a management expert who is in line to take over as the chief White House economic adviser Jan. 1, said, “By the end of November, HealthCare.gov will work smoothly for the vast majority of users.”

Moreover, Zients said: “The HealthCare.gov site is fixable. It will take a lot of work. A lot of problems need to be addressed. But let me be clear: HealthCare.gov is fixable.”

The website has frustrated millions of people trying to obtain insurance under Obama’s health care law.

In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of people have received notices from insurance companies saying that their coverage is about to end because it does not comply with the Affordable Care Act. For example, the policies may not provide “essential health benefits” like maternity care and may not cover as much of the medical costs as required by new federal standards.

A typical letter to about 25,000 policyholders from Independence Blue Cross in Pennsylvania says, “As a result of the health care law, your current health plan will be discontinued effective December 31, 2013.”

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida said it was informing about 300,000 subscribers that their current insurance policies did not meet the new benefit requirements.

Zients said that a team of experts from inside and outside the government had found bugs in some of the software used in the website for the federal exchange. That finding differs from the original explanation of problems that have crippled the website. Administration officials at first said that the difficulties had occurred because the number of people trying to use the website far exceeded their expectations, and they played down other factors.

The new law requires most Americans to have health insurance. People generally must sign up by Dec. 15 for coverage that takes effect Jan. 1. However, the open enrollment period continues to March 31. People who go without insurance after that date may be subject to tax penalties.

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