Sebelius finds a silver lining in Obamacare 'data hub'

Reuters

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON, Oct 26 (Reuters) - U.S. Health and HumanServices Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, besieged by bad news aboutthe new government health care website, sought on Saturday tohighlight a portion of the complex system that she said isworking well.

The website, designed to let millions of uninsured Americansshop and enroll in health insurance, has been plagued by delaysand error messages since it rolled out on Oct. 1, embarrassingPresident Barack Obama as his administration scrambles to fixthe problems.

In an upbeat blog post on Saturday, Sebelius releasedstatistics to illustrate the volume of interest in theAffordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and the speed of the "datahub," one piece of the complex system behind HealthCare.gov.

Sebelius praised the performance of the data hub, whichconnects to the Social Security Administration and InternalRevenue Service to verify applicants' identity and income.

She said it took the hub less than 1.2 seconds to routeinformation, and called it "a model of efficiency and security."

"The Hub is on the job, and so are we," said Sebelius, whowill be grilled about the website by Republican lawmakers at ahearing on Wednesday.

The hub was developed by Quality Software Services Inc, orQSSI, a unit of health insurer UnitedHealth Group.

On Friday, the Obama administration announced QSSI would nowserve as "general contractor" to oversee repairs by the end ofNovember, a step designed to build public confidence that thewebsite can be salvaged in time for Americans to buy insuranceby the end of the year.

The administration has been criticized for not releasingdata on how many Americans have successfully enrolled forinsurance - information it plans to unveil in November -although it has said almost 700,000 applications for insurancehave been filled out.

The government expects about 7 million people to enroll forindividual insurance in 2014.

Sebelius said the Social Security Administration has beenpinged by the data hub more than 4.2 million times asindividuals or households try to establish an account using asocial security number, with the biggest numbers coming fromPennsylvania, New York, California, West Virginia andWashington.

The IRS has handled more than 1.3 million requests to verifyincome and family size tax data from the hub - about 80,000requests per day - and has been able to provide responsesthrough the hub in less than a second, on average, Sebeliussaid.

The IRS has also fulfilled more than 330,000 requests for a"computation service" that determines whether someone iseligible for subsidies based on their income, she said.

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