House Holds Heated Hearing on Federal Exchange Website
A House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Thursday seeking to understand the problems with the federal health exchange website devolved into a new round of finger-pointing, the Wall Street Journal reports (Schatz, Wall Street Journal, 10/24).
Representatives from the four federal contractors -- CGI Federal, Optum/QSSI, Serco and Equifax Workforce Solutions -- working with the government on the federal exchange were asked to explain how the problems occurred, after they delivered previous testimony in September saying things appeared to be going smoothly and the project was on track for successful launch (Somashekhar et al., Washington Post, 10/24).
The witnesses included:
- Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president of CGI Federal;
- Andrew Slavitt, group executive vice president of Optum/QSSI;
- Lynn Spellecy, corporate counsel for Equifax Workforce Solutions; and
- John Lau, program director of Serco.
(Click on the witnesses' names for links to their written testimony.)
During the nearly four-hour hearing, both Republicans and Democrats on the committee appeared visibly frustrated by the performance of the website, though committee members took starkly different positions on the glitches' overall implications, with some seeking solutions and others using the errors as reason to repeal the law.
Republicans Question Contractors, Blame ACA
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) criticized the contractors, saying in September they "looked us in the eye and assured us repeatedly that everything was on track, except that it wasn't" (Cohen, CNN, 10/24). However, he added, "This is more than a website problem. The website should have been the easy part." Upton said, "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?" (Pear, New York Times, 10/24).
Upton's concerns were echoed by other Republicans.
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) demanded that the contractors provide the names of administration officials involved in decision making, saying, "I would venture to guess the regular bureaucrats did their job. The political appointees manipulated" (Morgan/Cornwell, Reuters, 10/24).
Democrats Question Contractors, Criticize GOP
Meanwhile, Democrats on the committee posed equally pointed questions about the problems plaguing the exchanges, but also accused Republicans of trying to sabotage the ACA, the Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 10/24).
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) expressed frustration with Republicans' questions, and described the hearing as a "monkey court." In response to the questions raised about privacy concerns, Pallone said, "You are trying to scare people so they don't apply" for health insurance on the exchanges. He also accused Republicans of trying to undermine public trust in the law in an effort to delay or repeal it (Washington Post, 10/24).
Meanwhile, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said the ACA is "an enormous success, with one obvious problem": HealthCare.gov (Kennedy/Camia, USA Today, 10/24).
In regard to the contractors, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said, "Three weeks after the website went live, we are still hearing reports of significant problems. These problems need to be fixed, and they need to be fixed fast."
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) expressed similar frustration, saying the problems are "unacceptable" and need to be "fixed" (New York Times, 10/24).
Meanwhile, representatives from the contractors continuously deflected pointed questions about why the website is not working properly, the New York Times reports (New York Times, 10/24).
Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president at CGI Federal, told one Republican lawmaker, "Sir, if there was a silver-bullet answer to that question, I'd give it to you." She added, "It is a combination of a number of things. It is not just a component of what CGI's responsible for. It's the end-to-end aspect that is the challenge" (Howell, Washington Times, 10/24). She added that despite the problems, "the system is working" and soon "people will enroll at a faster pace" (Wall Street Journal, 10/24).
In addition, the contractors pointed to the federal government's role in the glitches, noting that they each tested their own components independently well in advance of the Oct. 1 launch date, while the federal officials waited until the last few weeks to conduct end-to-end testing. Campbell and Slavitt, group executive vice president of Optum/QSSI, both said that they would have preferred to see the entire system tested months in advance, as is standard in the industry (New York Times, 10/24).
Meanwhile, representatives from Equifax Workforce Solutions, which verified applicant incomes, and Serco, which is processing paper applications, said their portions of the system were functioning properly (Wall Street Journal, 10/24).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.