Share

Policy: Technology

Builders of Obamacare website say more testing was needed

By |
Congress,Obamacare,House of Representatives,Health and Human Services,Health Care,Medicare and Medicaid,PennAve,Sean Lengell,Healthcare.gov,Technology

Two contractors who built the troubled federal health care insurance exchange website told a House panel that more time was needed to test the system but believed the system would work anyway.

The contractors, CGI Federal and Quality Software Services, said the two weeks of testing done in late September wasn't enough to ensure the many components from different contractors operating smoothly in unison before the entire system went online Oct. 1.

"We would've loved to have months to be able to do that," CGI Federal Senior Vice President Cheryl Campbell said Thursday during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing to investigate why the healthcare.gov website hasn't worked as planned.

Andrew Slavitt, an executive with Quality Software Services' parent company, said "ideally, integrated testing would've occurred well before" it did.

He said while it was difficult to estimate exactly how much testing time was needed, "months would've been nice."

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, not a specialized technical company, conducted the tests.

Healthcare.gov, designed to help residents of 36 states find health coverage, has been fraught with problems, and the Obama administration is feeling pressure on how to fix them.

Republicans said it was foolish for the Obama administration to believe that one of the most complicated integrated websites ever devised by the federal government could operate smoothly without more than two weeks of testing.

"This is exactly how outside people predicted that it would turn out," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. "This isn't a partisan issue about health care — people expect this thing to work."

Walden told the contractors he was "very disturbed CMS did not give you the adequate time that would be an industry standard to test this."

Still, contractors said they didn't anticipate any major glitches.

"We thought our work was on track," Slavitt said.

When asked why the website hasn't worked as planned, Campbell responded that "if there was silver bullet to the answer to that question, I'd give it to you."

"It is a combination of a number of things that is just not the component of what CGI's responsible for," she said. "It's the end-to-end aspect that is challenged.

"There's components across the ecosystem that can have an impact on the performance of the system."

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., accused the contractors of failing to take responsibility for the website's woes.

"What you said … is that everything was A-OK. No one acknowledged anything," she said. "We've got problems with this website.

"You keep speaking about unexpected volumes [of users of the website], Miss Campbell, and that really sticks in my craw," Eshoo added. "There are thousands of websites that carry far more traffic. I think that's really kind of a lame excuse."

Campbell said the system is improving daily and said she doesn't anticipate a need to push back any enrollment deadlines, including Dec. 15, when people must sign up if they want to receive health insurance by Jan. 1.

"The system will continue to improve," she said. "The system is working. People are enrolling."

Republicans complained to the contractors that the firms told the panel at a Sept. 10 hearing they didn't anticipate any problems with the website's rollout and that there were no warning signs prior to Oct. 1.

"Each contractor assured us that its components of the exchange would be ready on time," said Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa. "And yet, when the exchanges opened for business on Oct. 1st, it was nothing less than an unmitigated disaster."

The contractors said that while individually their contributions to the website worked fine, comprehensive testing of all the components together was solely the responsibility of CMS.

No one from CMS, any federal agency nor the administration appeared before the committee. But Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has been under intense fire for the website's botched rollout, said she intends to testify before the panel Wednesday.

Democrats accused Republicans of exploiting the website's glitches for political purposes in an attempt to undermine — instead of fix — problems with Obamacare's rollout.

"There'll be plenty of time to figure out who's responsible for the various problems facing the exchanges," said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. "What's more important to me is that Americans would be able to access the numerous benefits found in the plans offered through the exchanges."

And several Democrats compared healthcare.gov's troubles to similar website problems when the GOP-crafted Medicare Part D prescription drug program debuted in 2006. Those glitches eventually were fixed, and the program has been called a success by both parties.

"There were all kinds of problems with the [Medicare Part D] website," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. "Did the Democrats get up and say, 'Oh, Medicare Part D is terrible, let's repeal it, or defund it?' No. We said, let's work hard to make it better, and that's what we did. And the glitches disappeared."

View article comments Leave a comment
Author:

Sean Lengell

Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner