Chao Testifies Before House Subcommittee on ACA Exchange Website
On Tuesday, CMS' Deputy Chief Information Officer Henry Chao testified before a House Energy and Oversight subcommittee on the security of the federal health insurance website and CMS' progress fixing errors, the Washington Post reports.
In his prepared testimony, Chao said that the federal marketplace had met all security standards and that there were measures in place to continually identify and eliminate potential threats. He noted that CMS and contractors on the project were "hard at work to design, build and test secure systems that ensure Americans are able to enroll in affordable health care coverage."
Chao also assured panel members that fixes to the front end of HealthCare.gov were 100% complete, allowing users to shop, browse, compare and enroll in plans (Somashekhar, Washington Post, 11/19).
However, he said that 30% to 40% of work on the "back office" IT systems for the federal marketplace has yet to be completed. Those parts of the system include accounting and payment systems such as the delivery of federal subsidies (Hattem , "RegWatch," The Hill, 11/19). According to Politico, many of the back-end systems Chao referenced were not scheduled to come online until December, when insurers would need to begin finalizing coverage that would start Jan. 1 (Meyers, Politico, 11/20).
CMS spokesperson Julie Bataille said, "We had prioritized that essential consumer-facing functionality that needed to be live Oct. 1 in order for consumers to be able to complete their eligibility and enrollment process. The other functionality, that financial management functionality, will come online over time" (Hattem , "RegWatch," The Hill, 11/19).
Chao told panel members that the back-end systems would be tested by January (Howell, Washington Times, 11/19). According to Politico, Chao's testimony has some observers concerned that the systems will not be ready on time, which could disrupt individuals' insurance (Politico, 11/20).
Panel Cites Recent McKinsey Analysis, Criticizes Chao
When asked during the hearing about a recently released risk-assessment document from McKinsey, which stated that a number of federal officials were made aware of problems with HealthCare.gov in April, Chao said he was "aware that some document was being prepared" but he had not read it, The Hill's "RegWatch" reports (Hattem , "RegWatch," The Hill, 11/19).
Republican subcommittee members criticized Chao for not reading the document -- which was publicly released Monday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- saying it proves at least some officials were aware of the website's problems well ahead of its launch (Jackson, USA Today, 11/19).
Subcommittee Chair Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) said, "I'm deeply concerned that this is something you knew and had not read," noting that McKinsey was hired "to come and present what the problems are, and they had a roadmap of the problems."
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said, "It doesn't take you but about 10 minutes to go and look at it," adding that the document makes it "absolutely clear that the startup of the site was not going to work well, if at all, on Oct. 1."
Meanwhile, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) called on President Obama to fire those who were aware of potential problems with the website but did not make the issues known. He said, "This report says absolutely they knew, and they didn't tell the president."
Democrats sought to downplay the significance of the document, criticizing their Republican colleagues for not sharing the information before releasing it to the public just hours before the hearing (Hattem , "RegWatch," The Hill, 11/19).
In a letter, Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee accused the GOP of selectively leaking documents "without appropriate context, without the benefit of witness testimony to provide additional information, and in this latest case, without providing Democratic members timely access" (USA Today, 11/19).
Obama Briefed on Website Problems
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday said that Obama was told about the problems identified by McKinsey but was assured that the issues were being addressed, Reuters reports.
Carney noted that Obama's familiarity with the report does not contradict previous statements from the White House and the president himself that he was surprised by the technical problems with the website (Rampton/Morgan, Reuters, 11/19).
Carney said, "The president received regular briefings on various aspects of implementing the [health care law], including the recommendations from this review and the steps that [agencies] had taken to address those recommendations." He later added that although the president was warned "there would be glitches, there would be problems ... certainly we never expected, he was certainly not told, and nobody here was told, because there was not this expectation, that the site would perform as poorly as it did" (Eilperin, "Post Politics," Washington Post, 11/19).
Security Experts Recommend Shutting Down Website
Meanwhile, four technology experts also testified before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on the exchange website, Reuters reports.
During a quick question and answer session, the experts -- which included two academics and two private sector technical researchers -- all said they do not believe the federal health insurance website currently is secure.
Three of the experts said they would recommend shutting the website down until fixes have been made, while the fourth said he did not have enough information to make such a decision (Finkle/Selyukh, Reuters, 11/19).
Sebelius Says Nov. 30 Not a 'Magic' Date
In related news, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday during appearances in Orlando and Miami said HHS' self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline to have HealthCare.gov fixed is "not a magic go, no go date," AP/Yahoo! News reports.
Sebelius said, "We have some very specific things we know we need to complete by the 30th and that punch list is getting knocked out every week." However, she added, "We recognize that there will still be periodic spikes, glitches, whatever that people will experience" (Kennedy, AP/Yahoo News, 11/19).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.