The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has awarded consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton a $202 million contract to be the marketplace system integrator, or general contractor, which includes the federally-facilitated health insurance marketplace, parts of the state-run marketplaces and more.

The marketplace is the primary implementation of the Affordable Care Act and is a complex “system of systems” built and supported by many contractors with interfaces to several other federal agencies and all 50 states, the consultancy explains. The marketplace also includes helping insurance companies upload their latest plans.

The contract “really is about being the major coordinator of all major elements of the ACA program,” says Gary Labovich, executive vice president at the McLean, Va.-based consultancy.

Also see: Senators question CMS over state-based marketplace reimbursements

The contract is composed of a base with four option years and the potential to continue until July 2020.  Booz Allen replaces Quality Software Services Inc. , owned by UnitedHealthcare, as the marketplace system integrator.

Booz Allen was awarded the contract after a competitive bidding process, as required by federal law. As the next system integrator, the consultancy will work with CMS and the agency’s contractors to prioritize deliverables and the efficient use of resources. “We

ok forward to working with Booz Allen Hamilton as the marketplace matures,” a CMS spokesperson said in a statement.

Part of the contract includes having Booz Allen oversee management and operational processes to continually improve the overall management and coordination of marketplace contractors, including delivering new functions, improvements or changes to the existing technology. Booz Allen deferred questions about these improvements to CMS, which declined to expand on any plans.

Also see: NAHU, AHIP to offer broker training for federal health exchange

The Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General has previously recommended using a system integrator to coordinate complex IT projects, such as the federal marketplace.

Michael Lujan, co-founder and chief sales officer at San Francisco-based Limelight Health, says that “Booz Allen appears to have the requisite experience and has a great opportunity to perform as system integrator in this very complex and closely scrutinized work.”

Lujan, immediate past president of the California Association of Health Underwriters and until August 2013 Covered California’s head of sales and marketing, adds that ”their work will be challenging but equally rewarding if able to help improve the federally-facilitated marketplace experience for consumers, agents and carriers.”

Working together

Booz Allen’s Labovich says key to successful execution of the contract is working in tandem with the many other vendors involved in the marketplace. “This is very familiar terrority,” he says. “We have demonstrated in the past we can manage multiple vendors.”

He says Booz Allen will take a “very fair view” of the work done by all vendors, as their job is to make sure everyone is staying on schedule and meeting milestones. But, the consultancy’s plan is to make it a collaborative effort. “This is not about us trying to point out what others are doing wrong,” Labovich says.

The contract is about more than technology, he explains. “While this is all about technology, it’s also about change management,” he says. “This project will require not only technology excellence but real insight into organizational adaption and adoption and …. getting everybody to work together, coordinate and calibrate what needs to get done.”

“That is not always thought of as a high priority when it comes to tech projects,” he adds. “I would argue it is the most important element. It is probably the thing that people discount the most, and given Booz Allen Hamilton is a 100-year-old management consulting firm, we have a real affinity for that.”

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