Lee Terry joins in grilling of contractors behind insurance marketplace website - Omaha.com
Published Friday, October 25, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 4:20 am
Lee Terry joins in grilling of contractors behind insurance marketplace website

WASHINGTON — When the company computer keeps crashing, you can always try yelling at the IT guys.

Democrats and Republicans alike Thursday tore into the contractors responsible for building the new online federally run insurance marketplaces that lie at the heart of the health care law, President Barack Obama's signature policy initiative.

It was a bipartisan grilling hosted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee for representatives of the companies being paid millions to create the online infrastructure for those marketplaces.

Executives of CGI Federal, which built the federal HealthCare.gov website serving 36 states, and QSSI, which designed the part that helps verify applicants' income and other personal details, testified under oath about the system's rocky rollout that has been plagued by error messages, long waits and other problems.

Several of the committee members noted that the contractors had described the system as good to go on Sept. 10.

“Why did they assure us that the website would work?” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., the committee chairman. “Did they not know? Or did they not disclose?”

The contractors conceded some challenges but generally defended their own work and pointed to the administration as the one responsible for putting all the pieces together.

For example, they suggested the system was not adequately tested prior to going live.

The contractors said they each tested their own components independently but that the Health and Human Services Department was responsible for testing the whole system from end to end.

That kind of testing didn't happen until the last couple of weeks before the system's Oct. 1 launch.

It quickly crashed once consumers tried to use it.

Representing QSSI, Andrew Slavitt told the committee that ideally, end-to-end testing should have occurred well before the launch, leaving enough time to correct flaws.

How much time?

“Months would be nice,” said Slavitt.

“We would have loved to have months,” concurred CGI Vice President Cheryl Campbell.

The complaints about inadequate testing will certainly get further airing next week when Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is set to testify before the committee.

During Thursday's hearing, Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., a member of the committee, asked how many people have actually been accessing the site and how many have been able to complete the process to enroll in an insurance plan.

“Can you determine how many people from Nebraska have tried to access?” Terry asked Slavitt.

“I don't know,” Slavitt said.

Terry pressed the witnesses on whether they would provide data to Congress when it is available, even if the administration does not give them permission to do so.

“Will you still provide us the information because you're under oath and we've asked you for that information?” Terry asked Slavitt.

“If we can, we certainly will,” Slavitt responded.

“That was a good non-answer,” Terry said.

In a press release after the hearing, Terry announced that he plans to introduce legislation requiring the administration to provide weekly reports to Congress, states and the public about the 36 federally run marketplaces.

The reports would include how many individuals have visited the site, how many have successfully enrolled and the level of coverage they obtained.

Those reports also would include information about efforts to resolve the ongoing technical difficulties.

The administration has said it plans to release figures for those signing up through the marketplaces on a monthly basis.

The contractors did say the problems can be fixed and are being addressed daily.

They expressed confidence that uninsured Americans would be able to sign up for coverage by Jan. 1, when the law's benefits take effect.

While a number of Democrats on the committee had sharp questions for the witnesses, they also took shots at Republicans for what they characterized as hypocritical concern over the health care law's implementation, given that the GOP members have voted dozens of times to roll back, defund or completely eliminate the entire thing.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and the New York Times.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and the New York Times.

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