TOPICS > Politics contractors testify they warned of glitch risks before launch

October 24, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
The contractors behind the development of testified before a House committee that they warned officials the insurance exchange site was not properly tested before it went live. Meanwhile the White House announced that insurance seekers will now have until March 31 to sign up for coverage. Hari Sreenivasan reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The troubled launch of the federal health insurance website again captured attention on Capitol Hill. Today’s House committee hearing was the first opportunity lawmakers have had to publicly question some of the principals involved in its design.

There was plenty of politics throughout, but there was also concern about why the site wasn’t fully ready on Oct. 1.

Hari Sreenivasan has our report.

ANDREW SLAVITT, OPTUM/QSSI: We did fully talk about the risks that we saw, and we passed those along all along the way.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Contractors who developed insisted today that they warned the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services about not fully testing the system before it went live October 1. Andrew Slavitt with QSSI and Cheryl Campbell of CGI Federal told Republican Greg Walden of Oregon that they were pressed for time.

REP. GREG WALDEN, R-Ore.: What’s the standard protocol? What’s the recommended industry standard for end-to-end tests before rolling up a major website like this?

ANDREW SLAVITT: Months would be nice.

GREG WALDEN: Months would be nice.

Ms. Campbell, is that accurate for your company as well?

CHERYL CAMPBELL, CGI Federal: That’s correct.

GREG WALDEN: And you were given two weeks, and yet months would have been nice?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Campbell said that CMS made the ultimate call to go ahead.

CHERYL CAMPBELL: We’re there to support our client. It is not our position to tell our client whether they should go live or not go live.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The contractors said their staffs are now working daily to fix glitches within the system. They gave no estimates of how long that will take, but Campbell said she’s still confident the website will be ready in time for uninsured Americans to be covered by January 1, as planned.

Lawmakers on sides criticized the companies for not taking more responsibility.

Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette:

REP. DIANA DEGETTE, D-Colo.: Either at that hearing on September 10 or until just now, you have never testified that there was insufficient integrated testing to know whether the exchange was going to work, correct?


DIANA DEGETTE: I never saw any of your testimony that you ever said in those hearings that more testing was needed. And I was there.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Democrats had also joined the calls to get the system going. But New Jersey’s Frank Pallone charged today that Republicans care more about killing the health care law than fixing it.

REP. FRANK PALLONE, D-N.J.: So, once again, here we have my Republican colleagues trying to scare everybody.

REP. JOE BARTON, R-Tex.: Will the gentleman yield?

FRANK PALLONE: No, I will not yield to this monkey court or whatever this thing is.

JOE BARTON: This is not a monkey court.

FRANK PALLONE: Do whatever you want. I’m not yielding.

You are trying to scare people so they don’t apply.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In turn, Republican Fred Upton, chairing the Energy and Commerce Committee, said later it’s undeniable that the administration botched the rollout.

REP. FRED UPTON, R-Mich: They had too many players. They just, they never did the testing that they should have done, that any private sector company would have done. Whether you’re trying to order a pizza or a plane ticket or a hotel reservation, they never put the pieces together until too late.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The website failures may not be the administration’s only problems. The New York Times reported today that more than half of the counties served by the federal exchange have only limited competition among companies. That will mean higher prices, especially for uninsured Americans in rural areas.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration said today 700,000 people have applied for coverage so far through the federal and state exchanges. And in terms of website problems, officials said people will have until March 31 to get coverage before they face a tax penalty. That’s six weeks later than originally planned.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney:

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: We are focused not on Monday-morning quarterbacking, but on improving the access that Americans have to the information they need, so that they can shop for and purchase affordable health insurance. As I said yesterday, obviously, tests were done, and what we learned upon launch is that the problems with the site were greater than we expected and anticipated significantly, and that significant work needed to be done to fix those problems, and that’s what’s happening.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Meanwhile, the growing furor guarantees the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, will face tough questions when she testifies next week before the same House committee.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For the record, one of the contractors we mentioned, QSSI, is owned by UnitedHealth. And United is an underwriter of the NewsHour.