The White House announced this week that it has placed a former Microsoft executive, Kurt DelBene, in charge of the national healthcare web site, Healthcare.gov. While it's not clear whether this is a temporary or longer-term assignment, DelBene has been tasked with fixing the problems many have encountered accessing the site.
Mr. DelBene will not be paid for his work on Healthcare.gov.
"Kurt has proven expertise in heading large, complex technology teams and in product development," noted US secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, referring to DelBene's previous job running Microsoft's Office business. "He will be a tremendous asset in our work."
DelBene announced in July that he would retire from Microsoft by the end of 2014. He had been with the company since 1992, and spent most of that time working on Office and Office-related products. DelBene's wife, Suzan DelBene, is the US representative for Washington's first congressional district, in which Microsoft's corporate headquarters is located.
While the Obama administration's historic 2010 Affordable Health Care Act has withstood numerous legal attacks, its most pressing problem, perhaps, is the Healthcare.gov web site. This site, which is designed as an exchange in which Americans can compare health insurance plans and purchase insurance, has been racked by embarrassing technical issues since its opening on October 1. Project contractors have been working to fix those issues over the subsequent few months, and while many of the initial problems have been fixed, the site is still in need of technical oversight.
DelBene will fill that role for at least the next six months, and will focus on the site's capacity, reliability and privacy protections. The key date in his initial tenure is March 31, 2014, the end of the open enrollment period during which those who wish to purchase healthcare insurance can do so without incurring a tax penalty for the year.
"Working with Kurt over many years, I know him to be a passionate advocate for using technology to solve difficult problems at scale," Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said. "He brings deep expertise as a manager and engineer to his new responsibilities. I'm certain he'll make an important positive contribution in his new role with [Health and Human Services]."