Larry Kocot Quoted in Article, “Contractor Points to Chao as Leader of Website”

CQ HealthBeat

Larry Kocot, a Member of the Firm in the Health Care and Life Sciences practice, in the Washington, DC, office, was quoted in an article titled "Contractor Points to Chao as Leader of Website."

Following is an excerpt:

House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans repeatedly asked contractors at a four-and-a-half hour hearing on Thursday to identify which federal official was responsible for the decisions leading to the poor performance of One name surfaced: Henry Chao. ?...

Another longstanding controversial choice was that the agency decided to do the final testing on the stitched-together website components provided by dozens of contractors rather than hire another outside contractor to check out how the parts worked together. And the final testing on the integrated parts did not start until mid-September. The contractors testified that they would have preferred "months" of testing.

But despite the public focus on Chao's role, it is not clear whether Chao, a longtime career technical official at CMS, personally drove the decision to require registration or whether he internally recommended more time for testing the final product. ?...

Chao's bio says he "led the final design and implementation phases of new systems to support the Medicare Prescription Drug Program (Medicare Part D). He successfully managed the timely implementation of 10 major Part D systems."

Larry Kocot, a former career CMS employee and Brookings Institution visiting fellow, praised Chao's work during the implementation of the Part D prescription drug program in 2006. The initiation of that system also was marked by some technical glitches. But Kocot said that Chao was one of the people who worked to solve the problems.

One example, Kocot said, was the implementation of a system to figure out which plans Medicare beneficiaries belonged to when they showed up at a pharmacy to pick up their drugs under the new Part D program. The seniors and other beneficiaries often would not have had a drug card at that time or any way to show which plan they had enrolled in. So Chao helped build a system in which a pharmacist could enter in a consumer's name, birthdate and ZIP code in order to retrieve the name of the drug insurance plan from a CMS database. That information would determine the patient's co-pays and deductibles.

Kocot also said that, while he has no knowledge of who made internal administration decisions about, it is not unusual for career officials in Chao's position to have to take steps that they would prefer not to do.

"Henry's a soldier and incredibly good public servant and probably is taking direction from a number of different people," said Kocot. "The career people will take direction from political folks who are making decisions. Any decisions of any real import are made by political people; career people carry them out. Often political demands require systems changes that aren't what professionals and systems engineering people would say are the best things to do because they are complicated or there's a short timeline or it's just not good. But if political people think they are necessary, things will become priorities."