The recently retired chief of Microsoft Office Kurt DelBene has been appointed to lead the teams working to fix the troubled US HealthCare.gov insurance website.
The Obama administration announced the decision on Tuesday, with DelBene taking up duty today, replacing Jeffrey Zients. The handover is taking place only days before the 23 December deadline for people to apply for coverage to begin on 1 January, meaning the painfully rebuilt website will soon be put to test with traffic likely to soar.
"Kurt will ... focus on increasing system stability, redundancy and capacity, and building on improvements to the user interface, while continuing to prioritise security and privacy issues," US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a blog posting.
Zients, a longtime aide to President Barack Obama, oversaw a five-week emergency fix that turned HealthCare.gov from a crippled online portal to one that now operates smoothly for most visitors. Zients, an expert in crisis management, starts a new job as top economic adviser at the White House in January.
Despite the customer interface having been improved considerably, some insiders say the back-end features still lag behind, with missing pieces of software that will enable the federal government to verify enrolment data with issuers and to pay billions of dollars in federal subsidies on behalf of lower income applicants.
Earlier this month it was reported some minor glitches still continue to hinder the site’s performance. It was suggested about 10 per cent of all applications are not being accurately processed.
DelBene, expected to stay with the project at least through the first half of 2014, was previously responsible for the most profitable branch of Microsoft, providing office packages including Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Microsoft Outlook.
According to available information, DelBene has waived his salary and is doing the Obamacare job as a volunteer.
The collapse of the Healthcare.gov website this October has caused a large political embarrassment for Obama as it formed a backbone of his political programme.
A new Reuters-Ipsos poll of 1,558 American adults, conducted last week, showed that 55 per cent disapprove of Obama's job as President. But on the question of which party has a better plan for healthcare, Democrats still outpace Republicans 29 per cent to 19 per cent. The data has an overall margin of error of 2.8 per cent.