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Continued: Federal government renews Optum contract

  • Article by: JIM SPENCER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 15, 2014 - 5:41 AM

The site handled 83,000 users simultaneously on Dec. 23, a deadline for registering for health insurance. The volume caused backups that delayed services to thousands of people trying to find a plan. But waiting times averaged five to 10 minutes, not hours, Slavitt said, and those who didn’t want to wait were able to sign up for e-mails that told them when they could return to the site for instant service.

Throughout the day on Christmas Eve, the site had a total of 880,000 visits with no one getting caught in a backup.

“I think we’ve gotten through a really critical phase,” Slavitt said. But “by no means is anybody out of the woods. … For the foreseeable future it looks like we’re going to continue to remain involved.”

Total payments to multiple private contractors for the development and tweaking of HealthCare.gov were $319 million through Oct. 31, 2013, according to CMS.

The expense of fixing the broken federal exchange could eventually become controversial. But for now, Optum’s big political and technical gamble repairing the website has not backfired, said Steve Parente, a professor of health care finance at the University of Minnesota.

“They basically took a pretty public risk, and made it pay off,” he said.

“Nothing has really blown back on them,” Parente continued. “If you look at the website: Was it better Dec. 1 than it was when it started? Yeah. Is it still getting better? Yeah. It’s not an absolutely perfect success. But it has helped them get this contract with MNsure. Optum was looking for those kinds of contracts [when health care reform started] and didn’t get them to begin with.”

 

Jim Spencer • 202-383-6123

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