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Website contractors point fingers at Obama administration

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar & Stephen Ohlemacher

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 01:22 p.m. HST, Oct 24, 2013

WASHINGTON >> Contractors who built the web portal for the Obama administration's health insurance marketplace said today the site's crippling problems trace back to insufficient testing and changes that government officials made just prior to going live.

Who's to blame? The first congressional hearing into what went wrong dug into issues of website architecture and testing protocols -- but also re-stoked the partisan battle over President Barack Obama's signature expansion of health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. Republicans who've been trying to kill the program the past three years sounded outraged that it is being poorly carried out, while Democrats jeered them as political hypocrites.

What was clear after more than four hours of testimony was that the contractors had only partial answers, and only the Obama administration can eventually put the entire picture together to explain the botched rollout.

Better times are coming, said executives from CGI Federal, which built the HealthCare.gov website serving 36 states, and from QSSI, which created a component that helps verify applicants' incomes and other personal details. They said problems are being fixed daily and expressed optimism that anybody who wants coverage will able to get it by Jan. 1.

"The system is working, people are enrolling," said CGI vice president Cheryl Campbell. "But people will be able to enroll at a faster pace."

Asked for a timetable, she side-stepped, saying: "I don't like to raise expectations."

The online insurance markets were meant to be the portal to coverage for people who don't get health benefits on the job. Middle-class people are to pick from subsidized private insurance plans, while low-income people are steered to Medicaid in states that have agreed to expand that safety-net program. But the administration is now urging consumers to apply via call centers or on paper forms as the website problems are being addressed.

Lack of testing was the main thread emerging from today's hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

But questions were also raised about a decision by the administration to not allow window shopping, as e-commerce sites generally do. Requiring consumers to open accounts and calculate subsidies before they could shop greatly increased the volume of traffic. That precipitated the crash of an accounts registration feature that became an early bottleneck. The site is now allowing limited window shopping.

The contractors said they each tested their own components independently but that the Health and Human Services Department was responsible for testing the whole system from end to end. That kind of testing didn't happen until the last couple of weeks before the system's Oct. 1 launch.

Representing QSSI, Andrew Slavitt told the committee that ideally, end-to-end testing should have occurred well before that, with enough time to correct flaws.

How much time?

"Months would be nice," said Slavitt.

"We would have loved to have months," concurred CGI's Campbell.

The administration has acknowledged it did not test enough, and that that contributed to the problems.

The focus on the contractors is just a first step for re-energized GOP investigators. After the failure of their drive to defund "Obamacare" by shutting down the government, Republicans have been handed a new opportunity by the administration in the signup problems. Administration officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, are to testify next week.

"This is not about blame," committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said as he opened the hearing. But he and other Republicans wasted little time in castigating the administration for having repeatedly assured Congress before the launch that everything was on track.

"Are they simply incompetent, or were they lying to the American people?" said Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa.

Democrats shot back that Republicans have no objectivity when it comes to the law. "We have already documented a record of Republicans trying to sabotage the Affordable Care Act," said ranking Democrat Henry Waxman of California, citing not only the defunding effort in Congress but state-level campaigns to discourage enrollment.

Another Democrat, New Jersey's Frank Pallone, dismissed the hearing as a "monkey court."

What motivated the administration to delay the window shopping feature remained an unresolved question. QSSI's Slavitt testified it came as a "late decision."

Speaking for the administration, Julie Bataille, director of Medicare's office of communications, told reporters Thursday without elaboration that it was a "business decision." The Medicare agency is responsible for running the health care overhaul.

E-commerce sites, including Medicare.gov, routinely allow anonymous shopping, and customers set up accounts when they check out. Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters said recently that window shopping wouldn't have let consumers first see if they were eligible for tax credits. The credits amount to a discount off the sticker price of premiums.

Without citing any evidence, some Republicans suggested the administration's motivation was political. "This browsable website was turned off to hide the costs," said Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., sought to debunk that.

"Are you aware of any political intervention by this White House relating to your work on HealthCare.gov?" he asked Campbell.

"I am not," she responded.

QSSI's Slavitt said the decision had technical implications. It increased the website's workload, contributing to the failure of an accounts registration function that his company was in charge of. Requiring the merely curious to create accounts "may have driven higher simultaneous usage of the registration system that wouldn't have occurred if consumers could window-shop anonymously," he said.

Slavitt added that accounts registration snags are being cleared up. And HHS has since incorporated a rudimentary window shopping feature to HealthCare.gov

Meanwhile, Slavitt and the administration both are saying that another, even more important component designed by QSSI is working well. It's the website's virtual back room, known as the federal data hub, which plays a crucial role in verifying applicants' identity, immigration status and income.


Associated Press writer Jack Gillum contributed to this report.

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mikethenovice wrote:
Obama was not implicated. It is not his fault. Someone down the line needs to answer to the American people.
on October 24,2013 | 06:52AM
AhiPoke wrote:
So you also noticed that this president never seems to be involved in anything, especially if it goes wrong. He blamed a video for Benghazi, renegade agents for the IRS scandel, bush for his ridiculous spending, so this is not new. Do you think it could be because he never does anything? As the country's CEO, you'd think he would involve himself with issues that inlcuded spending $600B, on a program that bears his name. Do you think he should blame bush for this? In previous times, presidents were heard to say, "the buck stops here". I guess we should be comforted that this president is so innocent.
on October 24,2013 | 07:12AM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
Imagine if we had a congressional hearing for "Why are we in Iraq"? Why do we have thousands of dead American soldiers? Where are The WMD trailers? Where is Waldo Bin Laden? Why did intoxicated Cheney shoot someone in the face and not face charges? The Katrina Hearings? The 9-11 Economy Crash? The 9-11 Incident? The 45 minute Reading Book Club while America was being Attacked? The Empty Johnny Walkers in the Oval Office? Huh.
on October 24,2013 | 10:57AM
AhiPoke wrote:
I think all politicians, republican and democrats, liberal and conservative, should be scruptinized and held accountable. IMO, that's what the news media is suppose to do. Freedom of the press was meant for that purpose. Unfortunately, the press has become polarized, especially the main networks (ABC, CBS and NBC).
on October 24,2013 | 12:06PM
Fred01 wrote:
But not Fox News, right?
on October 24,2013 | 01:18PM
MalamaKaAina wrote:
Fred01 go with NanakuliBoss to 12 step meeting.
on October 24,2013 | 01:24PM
MalamaKaAina wrote:
NanakuliBoss still blaming Bush.....lol......go find a 12 step meeting!!!
on October 24,2013 | 01:23PM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
Not blaming Bush. Blaming congressional hearings not ordered for Bush. Quote from GOP " We will stymie Obama on each and every turn. Bar none. Even if we get nothing done!
on October 24,2013 | 03:28PM
Mythman wrote:
Johnny Walker Red,Black or Blue labels?
on October 24,2013 | 01:44PM
serious wrote:
AhiPoke, come on ease off. Barry has never had a job in his life--he wants to make a statement by hiring minorities--remember his "social Secretary" they haven't the faintest idea of what's going on and the media??? You don't cross that line in the sand on racial issues!! Want to talk Detroit or Chicago???
on October 24,2013 | 02:21PM
Pacej001 wrote:
Obama not implicated? WHUT? ??? Do you not understand anything about executive responsibility, leadership? Obama IS implicated. He is in charge of and responsible for the operation of the executive branch. Obamacare is his single largest domestic policy initiative--- and he's surprised and frustrated that it blew up when applicant's tried it?? He's not there to be surprised by major problems. He's there to anticipate and prevent them. That is what an effective executive does, period.----------- Now, here is the really frightening thing----- this empty suit of a president is also supposedly in charge of the military and thousands of nuclear weapons.
on October 24,2013 | 07:25AM
palani wrote:
Implicated is the wrong verb. Obama should be indicted.
on October 24,2013 | 07:48AM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
Hahaha. I think the birth certificate thingy is a better course.
on October 24,2013 | 10:58AM
thepartyfirst wrote:
The Obama Administration had three years or more to prepare for their flagship legislation and they could not get that right. Anything from the Government, Republican or Democrat should be first class top of the line. No excuses. It is our money anyway. We should not expect less. Obama thinks he cam goof-up all he wants, nobody going to question him. He always has nothing to do with it. But if you start to implicate him, then, why you are a racist.
on October 24,2013 | 08:40AM
DAGR81 wrote:
Two black eyes, a broken nose and a deflated ego for obama
on October 24,2013 | 12:22PM
FinzyKontini wrote:
"Someone down the line needs to answer to the American people." You should go into comedy. (Btw this is not a derogatory response to your post, but I bet you get it.)
on October 24,2013 | 02:49PM
ISCREAM wrote:
It is never the President's fault...just ask him...and remember Benghazi...the ambassador died while Clinton and Obama lied...
on October 24,2013 | 02:59PM
peanutgallery wrote:
Mike, Your Kool-Aid addiction s way out of control. Find a 12-step, but do it fast. You're going to lose your health coverage along with the rest of the country. It's all part of the plan towards a one payer system.
on October 24,2013 | 04:40PM
Ronin006 wrote:
The head of any organization, implicated or not, is ultimately responsible for everything the organization does or fails to do. Unfortunately, Obama does not see it that way. It always is someone else’s fault or something about which he had no knowledge like gun-running to Mexico, lack of security in Benghazi, IRS targeting conservative groups and the latest, problems with Obamacare roll out. But don’t blame Obama because he just did not know.
on October 24,2013 | 05:26PM
mikethenovice wrote:
The Republicans should be helping solve this instead of crying on the sideline.
on October 24,2013 | 06:53AM
Kuniarr wrote:
The Democrats should be helping solve this for making such a mess out of it.
on October 24,2013 | 07:23AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Where the H$ll were you last month when the Republicans attempted to delay implementation of Obamacare??? That delay, over which Obama shut down the government, sounds good enough that even some democrats in congress are proposing it.
on October 24,2013 | 07:28AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Obamacare, a nightmare for Republicans. ... Along with Social Security: Franklin Roosevelt and Medicare: Lyndon Johnson, is this, .... the Affordable Care Act / Obamacare: Barack Obama.... The Republicans HATE the LOOK and the SIGHT of that.
on October 24,2013 | 07:53AM
Pacej001 wrote:
SS- contributing to the national debt and busted for our younger people. Medicare- Responsible for at least $40 trillion in unfunded Federal liability. Obamacare- $1trillion in new taxes (10 years), shocking insurance rate increases on the middle class, up to 30 million to remain uninsured (CBO)-------------- You like the look and sight of that.----- Obamacare is looking like a disaster. Own it.
on October 24,2013 | 08:25AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Pace, will apply for (if not already has) Social Security and Medicare. And if Pace has no health plan and depends on the ER for his health care, he will eventually apply for Obamacare.
on October 24,2013 | 08:47AM
Kuniarr wrote:
The Senate Democrats cleverly circumvented Section 7 of the US Constitution in having Obamacare masquerade as a bill that originated in the House of Representatives instead of actually originating in the Senate.

How did the Senate Democrats cleverly cheated the framers of the US constitution who required that all revenue bills must originate in the House of Representatives?

By deleting the entire contents and title of HR3590 Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act of 2009 with a Senate bill Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and calling their duplicity as AMENDMENTS to HR3590.
on October 24,2013 | 08:43AM
niimi wrote:
Exactly! Got them around Scott Brown's 41st vote against.
on October 24,2013 | 02:50PM
Wonderful_World wrote:
Why? Not a single Republican voted for it.
on October 24,2013 | 08:44AM
niimi wrote:
This will take 3 years to completely fix.
on October 24,2013 | 02:48PM
palani wrote:
Canadian company CGI has a controversial history, both on the Federal level and here in Hawaii.

CGI facing state probe

Red Flags? Company behind ObamaCare site has checkered past

on October 24,2013 | 07:56AM
false wrote:
Hey, it's good enough for government work.
on October 24,2013 | 08:12AM
eoe wrote:
Too bad for your narrative that it is completely implemented by the private sector.
on October 24,2013 | 09:12AM
false wrote:
Regardless of who got the contract to implement, it's still a government managed project.
on October 24,2013 | 10:09AM
Publicbraddah wrote:
There are 55 contractors involved in this website. Stop wasting time by pointing fingers and just fix the dang thing.
on October 24,2013 | 08:41AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Fast and furious, IRS scandals, Benghazi, NSA snoops, innocents killed by drones, spying on friendly foreign governments, complete failure in Syria, $17 trillion debt and now abject goat rope of a roll out for Obamacare.

And yet no one has been held responsible for anything.

on October 24,2013 | 08:46AM
eoe wrote:
Every one of those is a fake scandal, or a distortion. Continue living in the right wing bubble.
on October 24,2013 | 09:13AM
Wonderful_World wrote:
Fake scandal or distortion? Wow--the veiw from your bubble must be amazing!
on October 24,2013 | 09:19AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Some folks are blind and prefer to stay that way.
on October 24,2013 | 09:37AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Like Republican Birthers. To Birthers, Obama being a Muslim is also a scandal.
on October 24,2013 | 10:14AM
AhiPoke wrote:
Wow!!! I'm neither "right wing" nor republican but even I'd say the number of issues that seem to come up with this administration is troubling. IMO, it's only because of people like you, and an adoring news media, who seem to excuse this president for everything, that he gets away with blaming other people for everything. You should consider leaving the left wing bubble and at least study the facts.
on October 24,2013 | 10:18AM
beachbum11 wrote:
Face facts or stay in your glasshouse. Come on now can you not see the Forrest from the tree,s?
on October 24,2013 | 10:26AM
Mythman wrote:
Everything in the bubble is fake. Everything.
on October 24,2013 | 01:47PM
serious wrote:
I think it should start with Buy American. Remember how Reid got on TV right away for the Olympic committee on the Made in China uniforms and they they had nothing to do with it but Lauden, a huge D contributor did it. Now we have a Canadian company getting the job--Canada also built Obama's campaign busses so he could campaign about jobs for Americans. I hate to say it, but when you hire minorities just to make the staff look good for people who never had to meet a payroll---all they do is point the finger. Does plausible deniability ring a bell?????
on October 24,2013 | 09:28AM
konag43 wrote:
this healthcare busines is totally stupid. instead of this he only had to make it mandatory for businesses to give health insurance to all worker and iimplement quest like hawaii has. we have the best health care in the nation he should have used the hawaii system instead of what he did. he messed up my medical insurance because of this change.
on October 24,2013 | 10:11AM
cojef wrote:
You got socialism, you must join. Let's face it, you voted for this President so quit your complaining. One of the Democratic Senators who helped draft the ACA who is not seeking re-election from one of the western States upon his announcement indicated the the Bill was train wreck waiting to happen. Gentle persons, the first train wreck just occurred. There are more to come. Why would the young healthy individuals join and pay the high premiums costs to pay for the aged who uses the plan the most. Yet the young voters elected overwhelmingly voted for the President. For them it is cheaper to pay the fines than join and have to pay the higher premium costs. The ones who benefit are the 11,000,000 undocumented, by the way they arrived here illegally. OOPs, hope this post is not sent for approval? Obama will have to eat his words, but he won't care after he leaves office, that your premiums will be cheaper and you will have the same quality of care. How can that happen, when there is a shortage of doctors and facilities to handle the additional 30,000,000 of insured qualifying for and requiring services. This only the tip of the iceberg, the "Titanic" will certainly follow. Meltdown of the whole system?.
on October 24,2013 | 10:46AM
hanalei395 wrote:
@ cojef: "You got socialism, you must join" ............. Social Security and Medicare. ........ Ronald Reagan didn't say "train wreck", but he did say in 1961, before Medicare was implemented, that Medicare will fail and he fought against it. But after he became Pres., he changed his mind and was all for Medicare.
on October 24,2013 | 11:06AM
Kuniarr wrote:
Bias makes a person change history. Reagan was against a National Health Care system like Obamacare.
on October 24,2013 | 11:57AM
hanalei395 wrote:
A "National Health Care system", which later became known as Medicare. Reagan was against Medicare.
on October 24,2013 | 12:24PM
AhiPoke wrote:
hanalei395, you seem to be making up history. Reagan was against a single payer national health care system or socialized medicine, which obamacare's supporters are trying to move to. Reagan was not against Medicare.
on October 24,2013 | 02:19PM
hanalei395 wrote:
Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Barry Goldwater said in 1964, that Medicare is SOCIALIZED MEDICINE.
on October 24,2013 | 02:54PM
cojef wrote:
Social Security you paid into like a regular pension, and medicare is deducted from your benefits and you pay dearly for both. My SS is short-changed because I happened to be born in 1925. By the way, the SS did not implode like ACA after spending 1/2 billion dollars. It won't work until a billion dollar$ is $pent.
on October 24,2013 | 02:25PM
hanalei395 wrote:
"Social Security you paid into like a regular pension". ...And you already got back of what you put into it, .. long ago. If you live long enough, maybe you'll get back over a hundred times of what you put into Social Security. ....... SOCIAL Security: Socialism.
on October 24,2013 | 03:19PM
Denominator wrote:
Hawaii is certainly getting screwed by the changes!
on October 24,2013 | 01:12PM
Ratrase wrote:
There should have been months of Alpha and Beta testing before implementation. Or maybe the Tea Party has hackers at work sabotaging it.
on October 24,2013 | 11:12AM
chuck4664 wrote:
Very simple, I voted for obama so i could get healthcare, I did not know i was going to be paying so much. I thought it was easy, now headache and depress. I guess tylenol and band aid must do for now.
on October 24,2013 | 12:38PM
menloboy wrote:
Remember these words: WE'VE GOT TO BALL THIS BILL TO SEE WHAT'S IN IT...AWAY FROM THE FOG, etc. NANCY PELOSI And people are asking why this thing imploded!
on October 24,2013 | 12:48PM
BlueDolphin53 wrote:
The republicans are clearly trying to make political hay here. But what else is new? Both sides do it all the time. Obamacare is not the way to get to universal health care, though I think it is a worthy goal. People are already being forced to drop their preferred converage because it doesn't conform to the Obama blueprint. They will be force into the insurance exchanges. Many worker sponsored health plan will also be affected, as some will be taxed more heavily, thus posing an interesting dilemna.....continue with their plan and pay the higher tax, or drop the level of coverage. This is just a bad plan period.
on October 24,2013 | 01:01PM
Mythman wrote:
Single Payer is coming. The NSA is being repurposed to supplement the IRS.
on October 24,2013 | 01:49PM
retire wrote:
Clearly the government does nothing well, so the less they do the better.
on October 24,2013 | 01:50PM
HatchKelso wrote:
The Republicans and conservatives want to use this minor glitch as political fodder against the greatest president that ever lived. They are being racist and intolerant and hateful to even think, let alone suggest, that the president or anyone associated with his adminstration could do anything wrong or improper. As the president so clearly explained its all phony scandals conjured up by Republicans to distract us from his great achievements and leadership qualities. Shame on the Republicans.
on October 24,2013 | 02:11PM
false wrote:
Not only the Republicans. I voted for Obama and wish I hadn't. Greatest president that ever lived? If you believe that, you must be related to Jesse or Al.
on October 24,2013 | 03:13PM
HatchKelso wrote:
who is Jesse or Al?
on October 24,2013 | 04:23PM
Nevadan wrote:
Ignorance is bliss.
on October 24,2013 | 05:55PM
Maipono wrote:
The Obama sycophants like to hold him harmless for all the problems that his signature legislation, Obamacare, has incurred. The American public will have a different opinion. We are looking at the complete unraveling of a mythological figure in Obama, and it takes time for his greatest supporters to come to this conclusion.
on October 24,2013 | 02:16PM
niimi wrote:
I'll bet it will be Bush's fault again.
on October 24,2013 | 02:47PM
HatchKelso wrote:
of course it is Bush's fault. Everything wrong with America is directly attributable to Bush. The president has made this perfectly clear and has been able to prove it. The president was elected to correct all of Bush's mistakes, but there are so many Bush blunders and they are so huge, that it will take decades to right the ship.
on October 24,2013 | 04:28PM
hikine wrote:
I hope no additional monies will be shelled out in this debacle as it's supposed to be paid for already! Test and retest before going live. And it would help if systems would be able to communicate with each other.
on October 24,2013 | 03:07PM
loquaciousone wrote:
In Washington DC, the more fingers you have the more power you have. For effective finger pointing, the more fingers you have the better you look.
on October 24,2013 | 03:30PM
PokeStop wrote:
Blame it on Obama and the Punahou Mafia!
on October 24,2013 | 04:01PM
sukebesan wrote:
POTUS Obama - All show - No go - Never takes responsibility for anything that goes wrong. He is a prime example of the Peter Principle at work and has reached his final level of incompetency.
on October 24,2013 | 06:03PM
middleofdasea wrote:
MAN -UP Obama ! BIGGEST LIAR IN HISTORY. Worst than 'I did not have sex with that women" Clinton
on October 24,2013 | 07:02PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
the Health and Human Services Department was responsible for testing the whole system from end to end. That kind of testing didn't happen until the last couple of weeks before the system's Oct. 1 launch.

Then Sibelius has to go. The goat rope ends there. Hold somebody accountable for once.

on October 24,2013 | 07:47PM
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