The House Energy and Commerce Committee is holding a hearing Thursday on the problems with the launch of the Affordable Care Act's online marketplace, HealthCare.gov.
A DISLIKE FOR 'RAISING EXPECTATIONS'
Cheryl Campbell, the senior vice president of lead contractor CGI Federal, declined to say today when the problems with the Obamacare website would be satisfactorily fixed.
“I would prefer not doing that,” she said, adding that she does not “like to raise expectations” for a program on which President Obama’s legacy rides.
House Republicans at today's hearing were eager to blast the White House for its failure to disclose more enrollment data about the exchange. “We still don’t know the real picture, as the administration appears allergic to transparency,” said committee chairman Fred Upton (R-MI).
But as the hearing intensified, rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) started arguing with Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) about whether the event was a “monkey court,” with neither of them able to successfully conclude the debate. The N.J. congressman believed the event had veered toward the simian after Republicans claimed the exchange registration violated user privacy.
Naturally, the hearing brought out its share of metaphors.
“Nobody can be a blind cheerleader for the Affordable Care Act when they see all these problems right before their eyes,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).
THE CONGRESSWOMAN FROM SILICON VALLEY HITS HARD
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) represents California's 18th congressional district, including Palo Alto and :the heart of Silicon Valley." She hammers the contractors by putting the ObamaCare website problems in perspective. "This is the 21st century,” she says. “It's 2013. There are thousands of websites that handle concurrent volumes far larger than what HealthCare.gov was faced with. Amazon and eBay don’t crash the week before Christmas. ProFlowers doesn’t crash on Valentine’s Day.”
FINGER POINTING STARTS EARLY
The contractors have been defending their individual pieces of the online marketplace. Cheryl Campbell, a senior vice president for CGI Federal, said that the site passed eight technical reviews as required prior to launch, and that it was the government’s decision to take the website live on Oct. 1. She also said the website is improving and enrollment will be faster by Dec. 15.
Andy Slavitt of the Optum unit of UnitedHealth Group, the owner of HealthCare.gov contractor Quality Software Service, Inc. (QSSI), placed blame on a late change made by the government:
“After the launch, HealthCare.gov was inundated by many more consumers than anticipated. Many of the critical components developed by these multiple vendors were overwhelmed,” he testified. “It appears that one of the reasons for the high concurrent volume at the registration system was a late decision requiring consumers to register for an account before they could browse for insurance products. This may have driven higher simultaneous usage of the registration system that wouldn’t have occurred if consumers could ‘window shop’ anonymously.”
THE CONTRACTORS GET GRILLED
The principal contractors who built the troubled Obamacare website are testifying about the HealthCare.gov development and launch – a rollout that committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) called “nothing short of a disaster.
Here’s the witness list:
Cheryl Campbell - Senior Vice President, CGI Federal
Andrew Slavitt - Group Executive Vice President, Optum/QSSI
Lynn Spellecy - Corporate Counsel, Equifax Workforce Solutions
John Lau - Program Director, Serco
And here are the members of the committee.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has faced heavy criticism for the ongoing problems with the site, declined to appear at today's hearing and will be testifying next week instead.