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Officials with the state's health insurance marketplace acknowledged prematurely releasing an online directory of doctors and hospitals on Tuesday, a week after opening enrollment for its version of the federal health care overhaul.

Covered California removed the directory within a day of release after discovering it was plagued by inaccuracies and sluggish performance. The search tool was designed to allow customers to determine whether their providers were included in health plans offered by the exchange.

In an interview with The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board Monday, Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee said the directory never should have been launched.

"Staff needs to do a better job of reining me in," Lee said. "I want to have great customer service and I push us to get stuff out there. But I and we need to be careful about not pushing too fast. That was an example of actually being out there too fast."

Lee said early criticism of the online federal marketplace and to a lesser degree the state exchange often fails to consider the rollout efforts involve implementing a massive system without what many in the private-sector would consider appropriate time for testing.

He described the directory as "best practice" in the corporate world and lamented that its late arrival and temporary removal were making news despite the state marketplace's comparatively smooth launch.

"Shame on us for stating that's how high of a bar we want to set up for ourselves for customer service," he said. "But if that's as bad as it gets, I am feeling pretty good."

The exchange anticipates reintroducing the directory within a week.

PHOTO: The executive director of Covered California, Peter V. Lee, speaks to members of the media during the launch of Covered California in Rancho Cordova on Oct. 1, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.



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