U.S. health secretary calls for probe of Obamacare website launch

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Elizabeth Rich points to a web page for the Affordable Care Act as she helps people sign up for health insurance at Swope Health Services Monday, March 31, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo. Today is the deadline to sign up for an Affordable Health Care insurance plan however, people who begin the enrollment process but aren't able to complete it by 11:59 p.m. because of a system issue may qualify for a special provision that will allow them to enroll after Monday night. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday asked the department's inspector general to investigate the performance of private contractors in the flawed launch of the Obamacare website.

The healthcare enrollment website, a key part of President Barack Obama's sweeping healthcare law, crashed on its October 1 launch and was subjected to weeks of emergency fixes.

"I am asking the Inspector General to review the acquisition process, overall program management, and contractor performance and payment issues related to the development and management of the HealthCare.gov website," Sebelius said in a blog post.

The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, requires most Americans to have at least enrolled in health coverage by the end of next March or pay a penalty.

The number of people seeking health insurance under the law more than doubled in November to around 250,000, according to a government report released on Wednesday, showing Obamacare is still far from its goal of extending coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.

The website's disastrous debut created a political crisis for Obama and fellow Democrats.

Sebelius, who is scheduled to testify before a congressional panel later Wednesday, also said she had asked Marilyn Tavenner, the chief of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to create a new chief risk officer position at CMS.

The new official's first assignment would be to review information technology contracting and identify the "risk factors that impeded the successful launch of the HealthCare.gov website," Sebelius said.

Late last month, the Obama administration announced that QSSI, a unit of health insurer UnitedHealth Group, would serve as a general contractor to oversee repairs to HealthCare.gov.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by W Simon and Meredith Mazzilli)

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