The HealthCare.gov Congressional circus has begun. On Thursday morning, executives from two of the contractors that were responsible for building HealthCare.gov testified in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
But don't count on contrition: thus far, neither executive has leapt to take blame for the site's failures. Instead, blame is being shifted to other contractors or, most commonly, to one party that's not represented on the panel: the Obama administration.
A witness for CGI Federal, the company most commonly associated with the troubled website, said the administration is ultimately responsible for the website's quality, and it blamed the initial bottleneck a part of the site it didn't create: the "doorway," where users set up accounts they'll use later to shop for insurance. But a spokesman for Optum, the company responsible for developing that doorway, said that bottleneck was created by the administration's "late" policy decision to require all users to set up accounts before browsing.
That's unlikely to play well in front of Congress, however, as both Democrats and Republicans arrived angry and are looking for answers. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) perhaps summed up the mood best: "There are no clean hands here."
Here are the biggest moments from the opening testimonies at the start of the hearing.
Cheryl Campbell, Senior Vice-President at CGI (The Canadian information systems contractor)
"CGI Federal and the many other contractors selected to develop the Federal Exchange perform under the direction and supervision of CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services]. As I stated in my September 10 testimony, CMS serves the important role of systems integrator or "quarterback" on this project and is the ultimate responsible party for the end-to-end performance of the overall Federal Exchange."
"The first set of issues for users dealt with the enterprise identity management (or EIDM) function provided by another contractor, which allows users to 6 create secure accounts. The EIDM serves as the "front door" to the Federal Exchange that a user must pass through before entering the FFM. Unfortunately, the EIDM created a bottleneck that prevented the vast majority of users from accessing the FFM. Since October 1, CGI Federal has worked closely with CMS and other contractors to troubleshoot solutions to this 'front door' problem."
Andy Slavitt, Group Executive Vice-President at Optum (builder of the Data Services Hub)
"It is relevant to note that the EIDM [CMS' Enterprise Identity Management] tool is only one piece of the federal marketplace's registration and access management system, which involves multiple vendors and pieces of technology. While the EIDM plays an important role in the registration system, tools developed by other vendors handle critical functions such as the user interface, the e-mail that is sent to the user to confirm registration, the link that the user clicks on to activate the account, and the web page the user lands on. All these tools must work together seamlessly to ensure smooth registration. 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 – the virtual data center environment, the software, the database system, and the hardware, as well as our EIDM tool."
"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."
Lynn Spellecy, corporate counsel at Equifax Workforce Solutions
The Equifax Workforce Solutions income verification solution is working as designed. Since the exchanges first went live on October 1, 2013, we have not experienced any significant problems or interruptions in the income verification solution that we are providing to CMS. We have successfully received and responded to verification requests regarding individual applicants from the federally facilitated marketplace as well as from state-based agencies … Now that the federally facilitated marketplace is open, we are monitoring the flow of verification requests from the hub to our servers and back. We have not experienced any issues, downtimes, or anomalies since the start date … Our service availability has been at 100% to date and our average system response time to requests is under one second."
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich.
"This is more than a website problem – and frankly, the website should have been the easy part. 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 they, or their coverage, aren't in the system?"
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
"The Affordable Care Act is an enormous success with one important exception: It has a poorly designed website."