Contractors who worked on the online health insurance marketplace said in a congressional hearing Thursday that the government didn't conduct proper testing of the system before it when live. The health insurance exchanges, created under the Affordable Care Act, opened October 1 but have been riddled with technical glitches preventing people from being able to sign up for a plan.
Amidst political finger pointing between Democrats and Republicans, representatives from different contracting companies that worked on the project appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee to defend themselves. Many said the system wasn't tested until the weeks and days leading up to the launch, a time period that falls drastically short of the months of testing typically required by the industry for a project of such magnitude. The online marketplaces, where uninsured Americans can shop for coverage, incorporate several different contractors as well as federal agency databases and more than 170 insurance companies.
Cheryl R. Campbell of CGI Federal, the main company working on the exchange, said her company was "not responsible for end-to-end testing" of the entire project. Rather, argued Campbell and other contractors who testified, the government was responsible for ensuring the system worked properly. She defended her company's performance, and said that the scope of the software program they helped develop had never before been seen.
"Unfortunately, in systems this complex with so many concurrent users, it is not unusual to discover problems that need to be addressed once the software goes into a live production environment," Campbell said.
Republicans, who have opposed the 2010 health care law since it was passed, said the contractors assured them on September 15 that the exchanges would be ready to launch. Republican Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, the chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, wondered if the contractors simply did not know the system wasn't ready, or if they were aware of problems but failed to mention them.
"This is more than a Web site problem," Upton said. "The Web site should have been the easy part. I'm also concerned about what happens next. Will enrollment glitches become provider payment glitches? Will patients show up at their doctor's office or hospital only to be told that they aren't covered, or even in the system?"
Members of the GOP have taken the initial glitches as a sign the entire law will collapse, and they argue that the individual mandate portion of Obamacare should be delayed, just as the employer mandate was last summer. They also blame Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for the rollout delays, and some have called for her resignation. Despite Republican calls for Sebelius to appear at Thursday's hearing, she will not testify before the committee until next week.
President Barack Obama has repeatedly defended the health care law but acknowledged publicly that he is upset about the enrollment delays and pledged to have them fixed as soon as possible.
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