President Barack Obama has promised to bring in the “best and brightest” to fix the error-plagued federal health exchange, HealthCare.gov — and that help could come from Verizon.
According to a report in USA Today citing an anonymous source, Verizon’s enterprise solutions division has been asked to step in to help.
This is a daunting task, given that over two dozen contractors have already been working on the website for several years. These large consulting firms, including Montreal-based CGI Global and Booz Allen, would have to agree to open their code to outside experts. In addition, “whoever builds this site has to take care of it,” explained Bob Kocher, one of the authors of the Affordable Care Act, in an interview with VentureBeat. Additional budget would need to be set aside for outside help, as the government can’t accept free services from companies.
Verizon has declined to comment; a representative said the company was not authorized to “discuss work they do for their clients.”
Related: Read our full report on the challenges of relying on a “tech surge” to make improvements to HealthCare.gov.
Aneesh Chopra, the former chief technology officer for the White House, said it’s not out of the realm of possibility, as Verizon has long been involved with the project. This may mean that HHS would not have to rustle up additional funds.
“I presume they’re helping on the infrastructure side given the fact that they were involved in that at the outset,” Chopra told me.
If Verizon is called in to work with the feds, it’s not yet clear whether the company would help manage call centers or make improvements to the HealthCare.gov website. According to a representative from CareCloud, a health IT customer of Verizon, it would likely be both.
HealthCare.gov and the ‘Tech Surge’
Obama stressed in a speech at the Rose Garden yesterday that the government would be staffing up the call centers so Americans would not need to wait on hold for hours to determine their eligibility for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. He also stressed that the “product works” and that Americans are already finding more affordable health insurance.
“Nobody’s madder than me about the fact that the website isn’t working as well as it should, which means it’s going to get fixed,” Obama said.
Press and analysts have critiqued the Department of Health and Human Services for failing to bring in top tech experts from the beginning.
However, it’s not as simple as that.
The government gave out contracts for HealthCare.gov several years ago — development has been in the works for some time. The New York Times estimates that some 5 million lines of code have already been written.
Meanwhile, the cloud is a rapidly emerging technology. Until recently, it wasn’t considered secure enough for the most sensitive industries: financial services, government, or health care. The feds didn’t deem cloud giant Amazon Web Services (AWS) secure enough for government business until March of this year.
Today, Verizon owns a full suite of enterprise solutions, including an infrastructure-as-a-service product and cloud-based hosting services. We most recently heard from Verizon Enterprise Solutions earlier this month — I received a news release claiming that the company would “reinvent the enterprise cloud.”
Verizon has been steadily incorporating Terremark, technology it acquired in early 2011 for $1.4 billion.
We’ve reached out to sources familiar with the matter for comment and will update you as we learn more.