WASHINGTON - Federal officials did not fully test the online health-insurance marketplace until two weeks before it opened to the public on Oct. 1, contractors told Congress yesterday. While individual components of the system were tested earlier, they said, the government did not conduct "end-to-end testing" of the whole system from start to finish until late September.
WASHINGTON - Federal officials did not fully test the online health-insurance marketplace until two weeks before it opened to the public on Oct. 1, contractors told Congress yesterday.
While individual components of the system were tested earlier, they said, the government did not conduct "end-to-end testing" of the whole system from start to finish until late September.
The disclosure came at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is investigating problems plaguing the federal marketplace, or exchange, a central pillar of President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul.
Cheryl Campbell, a senior vice president of CGI Federal, a unit of the CGI Group, the main contractor on the federal exchange, said that end-to-end testing of the full integrated system first occurred "in the last two weeks of September."
Another witness, Andrew Slavitt of UnitedHealth Group, said: "We didn't see end-to-end testing until a couple days leading up to the launch" of the federal marketplace on Oct. 1.
UnitedHealth, one of the nation's largest insurers, owns Quality Software Services, which was in charge of "identity management," including the use of password-protected accounts, in the federal marketplace.
Campbell and Slavitt said they would have preferred to have months of testing, as required by industry standards for a project of such immense complexity. The federal exchange must communicate with other contractors and with databases of numerous federal agencies and more than 170 insurance carriers.
The rollout of the Affordable Care Act has been tarnished by technical problems that have made it difficult for consumers to shop in the federal marketplace serving 36 states, including Ohio, that declined to set up their own marketplaces.
So far, about 700,000 applications have been submitted for health-care coverage being offered through the new exchanges, according to a report yesterday from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The nearly 700,000 applications are the total from both the state- and federally-run exchanges, Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, said on the media call.
Applications for at least 390,000 people have been completed through the state-run exchanges, according to a Reuters tally of state reports.
Campbell said that CGI continually reported to top officials at the CMS, including Michelle Snyder, the chief operating officer of the agency, and Henry Chao, the deputy chief information officer. Those officials made critical decisions about the federal exchange, Campbell said.
In response to questions, Campbell said: "We were not responsible for end-to-end testing" of the whole system. The Medicare agency was responsible, she said.
Slavitt said his company had tested computer code for the federal marketplace and had found problems. "We informed CMS that more testing was necessary," he testified.
Lawmakers from both parties expressed anger during the hearing at the performance of contractors hired to build the online health-insurance marketplace, which is still limping along after three weeks.
Lawmakers said they were dismayed because the contractors assured the committee on Sept. 10 that they, their computer systems and the online federal marketplace were ready to enroll millions of Americans eager to buy insurance, subsidized by the government.
"Why did they assure us that the website would work?" asked Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the committee. "Did they not know? Or did they not disclose?
"This is more than a website problem," Upton said. "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 that they aren't covered, or even in the system?"
Politics pervaded the session. Republicans said technical problems crippling the federal website epitomized fundamental flaws in the 2010 health-care law.
Democrats said the law is fundamentally sound, but that the website needs to be fixed immediately so people can get the insurance promised to them.
In addition, a growing number of Democrats in Congress now want to extend the enrollment deadline, and one senator wants to delay the penalty for not complying.
Six Senate Democrats up for re-election next year have proposed delaying the
March 31 deadline for applying for coverage while the program's problems are ironed out. A seventh, West Virginia's Joe Manchin, is co-authoring a bill to postpone the $95 penalty for people who fail to meet the deadline for acquiring insurance.
Information from the Associated Press and Reuters was included in this story.