Emails Show Feds Had Doubts About ACA Website Ahead of Launch
Federal health officials had significant concerns about the federal health insurance exchange website well ahead of its Oct. 1 launch, according to emails released Friday by the House Energy and Commerce committee, the New York Times reports.
According to the Times, the emails are among the first evidence that federal officials had advanced knowledge of problems with HealthCare.gov. The emails revealed that chief among those concerns was a lack of confidence in the on-time launch of HealthCare.gov.
Jeff Grant of CMS' Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight in an email dated July 8, 2013, wrote, "We believe that our entire build is in jeopardy," adding that the, "[Financial Management] build appears to be way off track and getting worse." Grant cited a "substandard level of staffing" as the reason for his concerns (Lipton, New York Times, 11/15). He added, "I think we need to consider which items in our build will not be done if we don't get substantially greater staffing levels."
Grant noted that the company had just 10 contractors working on the project, only one of which was capable of handling complex site-building issues. The email also stated that a portion of the site that was supposed to collect information from the state-operated marketplaces was "weeks behind schedule with most of the CGI test cases failing" (Tanfani, "Politics Now," Los Angeles Times, 11/15).
Other emails addressed concerns regarding lack of coordination between the site's contractors and also between CGI and the federal government. According to the New York Times, two contractor employees who asked to remain anonymous said that there was a clear lack of federal oversight on CGI's work because government officials argued extensively about which tasks should take precedent (New York Times, 11/15).
CMS Chief Deputy Information Officer Henry Chao, in an email responding to a request from CGI asking for another $38 million, wrote that the company had missed deadlines and had submitted less-than-quality work. In a separate email, Chao encouraged his staff to be tougher on the company ("Politics Now," Los Angeles Times, 11/15). He wrote, "I just need to feel more confident they are not going to crash the plane at takeoff, regardless of the price" (Shabad, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 11/15).
In an email dated July 20, Chao also sent his staff a video of his and CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner's testimony before a House committee in which they promised the site would be operational by the Oct. 1 launch date. He wrote, "I wanted to share this with you so you can see and hear that both Marilyn and I under oath stated that we are going to make Oct. 1 [work]." Chao added, "I made this promise on behalf of all of us ... [a]nd I have no doubt together we will drive the outcomes that flow from this promise."
House Energy and Commerce Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.), in response to the emails, said, "Administration officials looked us in the eye and told us everything was 'on track,' but when we pull back the curtain now, the mess is disturbing" ("Politics Now," Los Angeles Times, 11/15).
Officials Say They Will Meet Nov. 30 Deadline
Jeffrey Zients -- the administration official in charge of fixing the federal exchange website -- in a briefing Friday said the site is on track to be functioning properly by the Nov. 30 deadline.
He noted that while the team has made "measurable progress" completing more than 200 fixes to the site over the past several weeks, there still are 50 items on the "punch list" that they will be focusing on over the next week.
Zients also said the site now can handle 20,000 to 25,000 simultaneous users and that more servers were being installed.
Zients also said the error rate for the site has fallen from 6% to less than 1% (Demko, Modern Healthcare, 11/15).
White House Sets Success Benchmark at 80%
In related news, Obama administration officials have said the White House will consider HealthCare.gov a success if 80% of users successfully enroll in coverage using the site, the Washington Post reports. According to the Post, it is the administration's "first concrete performance standard" issued since the government began designing the website.
CMS spokesperson Julie Bataille said the agency's main "focus" now is "measuring performance of the site now and moving forward and making sure we have ways to demonstrate progress" (Goldstein/Eilperin, Washington Post, 11/16).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.