ACA Exchange Glitches To Be Resolved by Nov. 30, White House Says
On Friday, the Obama administration announced that the technical problems plaguing the federally run exchange website would be fixed by the end of November, the Wall Street Journal reports (Corbett Dooren, Wall Street Journal, 10/25).
Jeffrey Zients -- a former White House official who was appointed to lead the website overhaul effort -- told reporters that the website is "fixable," and that the administration now has a basic understanding of the issues and a plan to tackle them (Howell, "Inside Politics," Washington Times, 10/25).
Zients said experts had identified "dozens of items" to be fixed, including both performance and functionality issues (Humer/Begley, Reuters, 10/25). According to a source familiar with the project, there are more than 100 items on the "punch list."
Among the top priorities are fixing problems that result in insurers receiving inaccurate data and making adjustments to the enrollment and application process, which Zients said currently prevents three out of 10 users from completing their enrollment.
Insurers, Advocates Express Concern Over Timeline
Some insurers and consumer advocates have expressed concern that the timeline for repairs will not leave enough time for people to enroll in coverage that would take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, the Washington Post reports.
U.S. residents must purchase coverage through the exchanges by Dec. 15 for coverage to begin at the beginning of the year.
Under that timeline, insurers would be hard-pressed to generate bills and insurance cards for people who enrolled between Nov. 30 and the end of the year.
According to the Post, "a huge crush of people" are likely to enroll in coverage once the website is fixed, forcing insurers to create bills and insurance cards in a short amount of time (Somashekhar/Sun, Washington Post, 10/25).
QSSI To Oversee Repairs
On Friday, administration officials also said they have selected Quality Software Services Incorporated -- one of the contractors that helped develop HealthCare.gov -- to oversee repairs to the site, AP/U-T San Diego reports. The announcement marks a shift in project leadership, which until now had been run by CMS (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/U-T San Diego, 10/25).
A spokesperson from QSSI said, "Working with CMS, QSSI will help monitor, assess, prioritize and manage the technical operations of HealthCare.gov to enhance the consumer experience."
The company had been awarded an $85 million contract to work on HealthCare.gov, including building the federal data hub, a complex network connecting the website with state, federal and insurance company databases.
The firm also built part of the user registration system and conducted some testing of the online system (Washington Post, 10/25).
Federal officials said they are renegotiating QSSI's existing contract but declined to provide details on how much it would pay the company to take on this new role (Wall Street Journal, 10/25).
The announcement was met with some backlash from Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- which heard testimony from some exchange contractors on Thursday -- who said they should have been made aware of QSSI's new role during the hearing. In a statement, Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said, "It does not instill confidence that senior officials at QSSI who have been at the forefront of the HealthCare.gov mess are kept in the dark about being selected to be the savior for the project" (Washington Post, 10/25).
Sebelius Vows To Review Website Contracts
In related news, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Friday said that her department would review the performance of contractors hired to build the federal exchange website, the AP/U-T San Diego reports.
During a visit to a community health center in Austin, Sebelius said, "We will be looking at all the contract specs, looking at what was required, where steps were missed along the way, and we want to make sure the taxpayers get their money's worth." She added, "So for money that was spent, we will make sure people are accountable, but the most important thing right now is getting the website up and running as fast as possible" (Tomlinson, AP/U-T San Diego, 10/25).
Data Hub Down
Meanwhile, the state and federal exchanges on Sunday were unable to enroll consumers in coverage because of an outage at Terremark, a unit of Verizon Enterprise Solutions that hosts the website, the Wall Street Journal reports (Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 10/27).
Individuals who tried to log on to HealthCare.gov Sunday night received a message that read the "system is down at the moment. ... We are experiencing technical difficulties and hope to have them resolved soon. Please try again later." The system also prompted those who are "in a hurry" to contact the federal call center (Viebeck , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/25).
Jeffrey Nelson, a spokesperson for Verizon, confirmed the problem, saying, "Our engineers have been working with HHS and other tech companies to identify and address the root cause of the issue." He added, "It will be fixed as quickly as possible" (Wall Street Journal, 10/27).
GOP Lawmakers Threaten Subpoena
Meanwhile, House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) sent another letter to Sebelius on Friday demanding that she comply with an earlier request for details about the system's problems, the Washington Post's "Federal Eye" reports (Hicks, "Federal Eye," Washington Post, 10/28).
Earlier this month, the lawmakers sent a letter to Sebelius, asking for the number of successful enrollments through the federal website as of Oct. 9, as well as data on the tests of the portal before Oct. 1. The two lawmakers asked Sebelius to comply with their request for information by Oct. 24 (California Healthline, 10/11). Sebelius did not respond.
In their latest letter, Issa and Alexander said the missed deadline is a "troubling indication" that Sebelius is "refusing to hold people accountable" for the website's poor performance (Viebeck , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/25). They wrote that if Sebelius does not fulfill their request for information by Monday at 5 p.m., they would issue a subpoena ("Federal Eye," Washington Post, 10/28).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.