October 25, 2013

Designers of health care website: Full testing done far too late

Federal officials decided to ‘go live’ despite the brief test period, causing a chaotic rollout, a congressional panel is told.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

“Consumers should certainly not be fined for failing to buy insurance when it is difficult to do so,” Collins said in a prepared statement. “This is yet another reason why the individual mandate should be delayed for a year, just as the president has delayed the employer mandate.”

Thursday’s committee hearing showed clearly that the political fight over the Affordable Care Act is far from done. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and other DHHS officials will face fierce questioning next week.

Republicans are seeking to capitalize – belatedly – on the problems with the website rollout after bearing much of the public’s blame for the 16-day government shutdown and a near default of the federal government.

Although lawmakers from both parties pressed for answers, Republicans probed more aggressively. They demanded names of individuals in the DHHS who were responsible for key decisions and asked why committees were assured weeks before the launch that the website would be ready.

“The question we have to ask ourselves is, in light of all of the administration’s assurances, are they simply incompetent? Or were they just lying to the American people?” said Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa.

Tempers flared among committee members.

Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas accused the Obama administration of knowingly violating federal health privacy laws when setting up the system. That prompted a tense exchange between Barton and Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who called the proceedings “a monkey court” and accused Republicans of trying to weaken the law by scaring people from enrolling.

“I’d like to think this hearing is above-board and legitimate, but it’s not,” Pallone said. “The Republicans don’t have clean hands coming here. Their effort obviously isn’t to make this better but to use the website and the glitches as an excuse to defund or repeal Obamacare.”

But Democrats also prodded for answers.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., dismissed witnesses’ statements about the crush of website users by pointing out that Amazon.com handles millions of shoppers in the pre-Christmas rush without crashing.

“Taxpayers have paid you a lot of money and you essentially are saying to us that everything is all right when it’s not,” Eshoo said.

Lawmakers also pressed CGI Federal’s Campbell about whether her company requested a delay when it became clear that an Oct. 1 launch might be too soon.

“It’s not our position to tell our client when to go live or not go live,” she said.

In a conference call after Thursday’s hearing, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Julie Bataille, did not directly answer reporters’ questions about the timing of the full-system testing.

“Obviously, due to the compressed time frame, the system was not tested enough,” she said.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:kmiller@pressherald.comTwitter: KevinMillerDC
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