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New White House economic adviser to help clean up insurance exchange mess

6:21 PM, Oct 22, 2013   |    comments
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(NBC NEWS) -- Jeff Zients, who's been named President Barack Obama's next top economic adviser, will help clean up the jammed health insurance marketplaces, the administration said Tuesday.

Zients, former deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, won't start his job as director of the National Economic Council until the end of the year, when Gene Sperling steps down. So he has a few months free to try and tidy up the logjammed health insurance exchanges.

"Jeff has led some of the country's top management firms, providing private sector companies around the world with best practices in management, strategy and operations," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a blog post.

"He has a proven track record as Acting Director at the Office of Management and Budget and as the nation's first Chief Performance Officer. Working alongside our team and using his rich expertise and management acumen, Jeff will provide short-term advice, assessments and recommendations. "

Obama admitted Monday that the exchanges need fixing, and even said he was angry about it. 

Technical experts say it's more than just demand - they say the glitches must have been caused by mistakes in the software programs that run the exchanges, which are meant to eventually help 7 million Americans buy health insurance in 2014.

Sebelius didn't name the other experts being brought in to help but she says they come from within government and also include outside contractors and Silicon Valley veterans.

"This new infusion of talent will bring a powerful array of subject matter expertise and skills, including extensive experience scaling major IT systems," she wrote.

"This effort is being marshaled as part of a cross-functional team that is working aggressively to diagnose parts of HealthCare.gov that are experiencing problems, learn from successful states, prioritize issues, and fix them. "

And a Canadian-based contractor that has taken a lot of heat for the problems also will weigh in, Sebelius said. "In addition to our efforts to ramp up capacity and expertise with the country's leading innovators and problem solvers, we have secured additional staff and commitments from our contractors, including CGI, the lead firm responsible for the federally facilitated marketplace technology," she wrote.

"They are providing and directing the additional resources needed for this project within the provisions of their existing contract. "

In the meantime, people can try other methods besides the balky website, Sebelius and Obama both advise. "As we work to fix the site, we encourage Americans to continue to sign up for quality affordable coverage in four ways: by phone, online, by-mail and in person," Sebelius says.

People have until Dec. 15 to sign up for health insurance coverage that would start Jan. 1, and they have until March 31 to find coverage for some time in 2014. People who already have health insurance, either through a private insurer, Medicare or Medicaid, don't need to worry about buying a policy on the exchanges.

Maggie Fox, NBC News

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