What You Need to Know From the Opening Statements at Today’s Health Care Hearing

Contractors responsible for getting the health care website running are testifying to the House this morning. Here are highlights from its beginning.

A man walks near the U.S. Capitol building before sunrise, on October 17, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Brian Resnick, Matt Berman, Patrick Reis and Dustin Volz
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Brian Resnick , Matt Berman and Patrick Reis and Dustin Volz
Oct. 24, 2013, 6:03 a.m.

 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.”

And…

“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.”

And…

“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.”

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