Aetna’s Bertolini: Shut Down Federal Exchange Until It’s Fixed

by Categorized: Government, Health Care, Insurance, Technology Date:

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Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini has a tactic he thinks would help the 55 contractors working on the balky federal health care exchange: Shut the system down until the fix is done.

The idea comes with risks and more delays, but so does keeping the system running.

Bertolini has taken that message to Washington, D.C., where he’s been in touch with Jeffrey Zients, President Obama’s point man on the systems fix, along with top Obama officials including White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini talked about his own company's consumer technology and the problems of the federal health exchange system.  Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant  10/31/13

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini talked about his own company’s consumer technology and the problems of the federal health exchange system.
Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant 10/31/13

Aetna is one of only two “alpha testing sites” for the exchange system, and the Hartford-based health insurer participates in Obamacare plans in 17 states — though it has been critical of regulations and pulled out of Connecticut’s exchange.

“When you get into this kind of situation with technology, you just don’t have a short-term solution,” Bertolini told an audience in Farmington Thursday at an event of the Tunxis Community College Foundation. “Turn off the stuff that isn’t working.”

The idea should be to “freeze the scope,” meaning stop trying to make upgrades to the system and instead isolate the problems, said Bertolini, who has often said he considers Aetna to be a technology management firm in healthcare, as much as it is a risk management firm.

Bertolini said he’s been “on the phone with Jeff about that very plan….Pushing the pause button right now would be a good thing…if you do it right now, five to 10 years from now nobody’s going to remember this.”

The system hasn’t had any crashes since Bertolini made those remarks publicly but it has been down for maintenance twice in the wee hours over the weekend, according to Jim Wadleigh, chief information officer for Access Health CT, the Connecticut exchange.

Wadleigh said Connecticut’s exchange is taking steps now to shield the system from further federal disruptions — including taking bids for firms that would privately do “remote identity proofing” for Access Health CT — one of the federal functions that failed, throwing the system out of order twice last week.

But Wadleigh said he would not have advised pausing the system. “I don’t agree with it,” he said of Bertolini’s idea. “I think that any business that’s trying to roll out a startup organization is going to have some bumps and I’m sure there was some politics in his decision to recommend that they shut it down.”

By “politics,” he could mean Aetna’s overall criticism of the system. As for Aetna’s participation in the Connecticut exchange, “We’re hoping to get them back,” Wadleigh said. “They’re an integral member and a national player.”

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