A group of seven Democratic senators is calling on President Barack Obama to appoint an official to oversee ongoing repairs to the beleaguered federal health care website after Jeffrey Zients departs.
Zients, the former acting head of the Office of Management and Budget, is scheduled to take over as director of the National Economic Council in January.
The senators, led by Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, praised the selection of Zients as an interim leader before highlighting what they view as a need for a long-term solution in a letter dated Nov. 25, which was released Tuesday afternoon.
"A project of this size and scope demands the sustained leadership and day-to-day management of a chief executive officer — someone whose sole responsibility would be an unrelenting focus on healthcare.gov and who has experience overseeing large and complex consumer-facing technology projects," the senators wrote. "The position should report directly to you and should be empowered with the authority to ensure that healthcare.gov is fixed quickly, completely, and permanently."
Interestingly, the senators are calling for the person in charge of the website to report to Obama, rather than through the usual bureaucratic channels at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Mark Warner of Virginia, Chris Coons of Delaware, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Udall of Colorado and Tim Kaine of Virginia also signed the letter. The full text appears below:
Dear Mr. President:
As supporters of the Affordable Care Act, we have been deeply disappointed and frustrated with the many problems surrounding the law's rollout, including the initial failure of the healthcare.gov website.
These early missteps are all the more unfortunate because of the potential benefits of the Affordable Care Act. An effective implementation of this law would mean that millions of Americans would no longer be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, have to worry about caps on lifetime benefits, or pay a co-pay or deductible to receive preventive services. Women will no longer be charged higher premiums simply because of their gender, young adults can stay on their parents’ plans until they are 26, and those without employer coverage can purchase affordable health insurance on the exchange with subsidies for low and middle-income families.
While we cannot go backward and correct mistakes made, we must now work together to fix the law so that it works for all Americans. To that end, we appreciate that your administration is making a concerted effort to improve the functionality of healthcare.gov, and we commend your decision to appoint Jeffrey Zients to manage this critical project. He has a record of success and strong leadership in the federal government and the private sector, and we agree that Mr. Zients is the right person to lead these efforts. But with Mr. Zients departing to become director of the National Economic Council on January 2nd, we urge you to quickly appoint a replacement and extend the duration of the position until after the 2015 open-enrollment period concludes.
A project of this size and scope demands the sustained leadership and day-to-day management of a chief executive officer – someone whose sole responsibility would be an unrelenting focus on healthcare.gov and who has experience overseeing large and complex consumer-facing technology projects.
The position should report directly to you and should be empowered with the authority to ensure that healthcare.gov is fixed quickly, completely, and permanently.
Like you, we want the Affordable Care Act to succeed and for every American to enjoy the health and cost benefits it can provide, but the law’s success is inextricably tied to the confidence of the American people. Sustaining the steady management focus that this position has already brought to the project would go a long way toward earning back the trust jeopardized by last month’s deeply flawed rollout.