House Republicans will probe botched launch of Obamacare

 

McClatchy Washington Bureau

Republicans in the House of Representatives are making plans to investigate the disastrous Oct. 1 launch of the federal health insurance marketplace established under Obamacare.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the federal contractors involved in the rollout to explain why things have gone so badly after their earlier testimony indicated that the marketplace information technology would run smoothly.

The federal marketplace, Healthcare.gov, was supposed to provide a one-stop site for users in 36 states to browse, compare and enroll in qualified health plans.

But millions of users and numerous software problems overwhelmed the site shortly after the enrollment period for 2014 coverage began. In subsequent days, the site was shut down temporarily for repairs, which have continued since the problems first surfaced.

Two weeks later, site navigation has improved but delays and malfunctions continue to dog the system, making it difficult for users to establish personal accounts and obtain federal subsidies to offset the cost of coverage.

Nearly 15 million people had visited the site as of last Friday, but the Department of Health and Human Services won’t release enrollment figures until November.

In a Sept. 10 subcommittee hearing, Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president at CGI Federal, which designed and developed the federal insurance marketplace, testified that her company was confident that qualified individuals “could begin enrolling in coverage when the initial enrollment period begins on October 1.”

Michael Finkel, an executive vice president of Quality Software Services Inc., the company that wrote the software code for the so-called data services hub, offered similar testimony at the hearing. The hub routes information from the marketplace to various federal databases.

“We expect the data services hub will be ready . . . as planned on October 1,” Finkel testified.

Equally positive testimony about the system’s readiness from Sebelius and other key health officials has now come under increased scrutiny by committee Republicans, who’ve long been skeptical of the glowing progress reports.

Several government reports had warned that testing for the marketplace was months behind schedule and the data hub might not get final approval until days before the launch.

“Despite the widespread belief that the administration was not ready for the health law’s October 1 launch, top officials and lead IT contractors looked us in the eye and assured us all systems were a go,” Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a recent press statement. “The American people deserve to know what caused this mess.”

The committee has asked Sebelius and top officials from CGI Federal and Quality Software Services to provide information about when the testing of the system was completed, the cause of the problems and any work being done to fix them.

The committee also wants all communications between HHS and both companies in the week leading up to Oct. 1 to see what, if any, problems or concerns may have been apparent before the launch.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has called for Sebelius to resign over the botched rollout. But on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Sebelius had President Barack Obama’s “full confidence.”

“The president is committed and has instructed his team to work 24/7 to resolve the issues that have arisen when it comes to implementation,” Carney said.

Email: tpugh@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @TonyPughDC

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