GOP Questions HHS, Contractors About ACA Exchange Launch
Republican leaders in the House and Senate have launched a pair of investigations into a series of system and technology glitches and the resulting enrollment delays that have plagued the website for the Affordable Care Act's federally run insurance exchanges, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports.
On Thursday, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and two HHS contractors -- CGI and Quality Software Services Inc., which played key roles in the development of Healthcare.gov and a new exchange data hub -- seeking answers about the problems and delays (Viebeck , "Healthwatch,' The Hill, 10/10).
In a statement, Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) wrote, "Despite the widespread belief that the [Obama] administration was not ready for the health law's Oct. 1 launch, top officials and lead IT contractors looked us in the eye and assured us all systems were a go," adding, "Instead, here we are 10 days later, and delays and technical failures have reached epidemic proportions" (Cheney, Politico, 10/10). "The American people deserve to know what caused this mess," he noted (Morgan, Reuters, 10/10).
During a hearing before the panel's health subcommittee in September, representatives of CGI, QSSI and two other federal contractors -- among six that were hired to develop the exchange website -- said they were confident that the portal would be adequately tested and cleared for the open enrollment (California Healthline, 9/11).
In the letters, the lawmakers asked HHS to release within one week specific documents and all communications between the department and the contractors regarding the development and testing of the exchange portal.
Upton said the committee is only seeking information at this time and a decision to hold a hearing would be made at a later time (Viebeck , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/10).
Senate, House Leaders Seek Answers From Sebelius
Also on Thursday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- the ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee -- launched a probe into HHS' rollout of the federal insurance marketplace.
In a letter addressed to Sebelius, Issa and Alexander asked for the number of successful enrollments through the federal website as of Oct. 9, as well as data on the tests that were carried out on the portal before Oct. 1. The two lawmakers asked Sebelius to comply with their request for information by Oct. 24 (Politico, 10/10).
'Window Shopping' Feature Appears on Federal Exchange Website
In related news, the government on Thursday rolled out a new feature on the federal exchange website that allows consumers to browse the portal for coverage options and costs without creating a user account, the Wall Street Journal reports (Weaver/Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 10/10).
Earlier this week, health policy and technology experts blamed the omission of the "window shopping" feature as one of the reasons for the problems facing the website for the three dozen federally run health insurance exchanges. Unlike most e-commerce websites, the federal exchange portal initially required consumers to create an account before allowing them to look at the insurance plans available in their state (California Healthline, 10/9).
The new feature allows consumers to browse the average monthly premium for each plan according to coverage level -- bronze, silver, gold or platinum -- without having to first establish a user account. However, the tool does not take into account a consumer's eligibility, based on age or income, for federal subsidies, Kaiser Health News' "Capsules" reports.
A message posted on the Healthcare.gov Facebook page on Thursday noted, "We listened to your requests and now have high-level information about plans and rates in your community offered through HealthCare.gov" (Galewitz, "Capsules," Kaiser Health News, 10/11).
Observers: Mid-November Deadline Must Be Set To Resolve Glitches
Meanwhile, some observers say the administration should set a mid-November deadline to resolve the technical issues and delays with the federal exchanges before target consumers -- particularly young, healthy adults who will be critical to the exchanges' success -- will give up on the site out of frustration or fear, Reuters reports.
Dan Hilferty -- CEO of Independence Blue Cross in Pennsylvania -- said, "Mid-November would be a time where folks who are getting online or accessing in other ways should really see things move pretty efficiently." He added, "As we get closer to Jan. 1, if in fact some of these glitches are not fixed, then I think people will become more and more concerned, and maybe panic about it."
Some Democrats in Congress also have expressed uncertainty about the law's future after its shaky start. An unidentified senior Democratic congressional aide noted that the administration is not "addressing these problems quickly enough." He said, "They've had three years to get their ducks in a row. It gets to the point where it becomes inexcusable. And we're not at that point yet. But we're getting close to it" (Reuters, 10/10).
ACA Contractors Have Widespread Influence, Survey Finds
A new report from the Sunlight Foundation finds that the federal contractors in charge of developing and implementing the exchange have widespread influence in Washington, D.C., The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports.
The foundation reviewed all 48 companies that received contracts from the administration, finding that 17 contractors spent more than $128 million on lobbying between 2011 and 2012 and that 30 made large campaign and party contributions (Viebeck , "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/10).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.