October 24th, 2013
09:11 AM ET
9 months ago

Happening now: The Obamacare hearing

(CNN) - The contractors who've been under fire for weeks because the Obamacare website debacle finally get their chance to respond to questions of who's to blame on Thursday at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing.

It's clear they're blaming each other and the government for the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov.

Representatives from four contractors face tough questions from exasperated lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Committee leaders are hammering away at who is responsible, when the Department of Health and Human Services was informed about the problems, and why Congress was out of the loop.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was invited to testify at Thursday's hearing, but will instead testify next week.

Here's the hearing witness list:

Cheryl Campbell - Senior Vice President, CGI Federal
Andrew Slavitt - Group Executive Vice President, Optum/QSSI
Lynn Spellecy - Corporate Counsel, Equifax Workforce Solutions
John Lau - Program Director, Serco

1:11 p.m. ET - CNN concludes its live blog. For a comprehensive look at the hearings, click here.

12:59 p.m. ET - Newt Gingrich's latest strategy for the GOP to address Obamacare and win upcoming elections.

12:55 p.m. ET - Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, says he declined federal insurance in order to experience what his constituents deal with through Obamacare.

12:51 p.m. ET - Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, rails against the failed promise that healthcare.gov would work. He said he spent 41 minutes Thursday morning trying to log on. Holding up his iPad, he says the message he received at the end of that period was: “please log in again.”

"This lie is way beyond an awful computer program. This lie affects the health and well-being of every American," Olson said.

Olson asked if the witnesses would, were they President September 30, have chosen to move forward on opening the exchanges. They said they could not answer.

12:43 p.m. ET - Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Michigan, reassembles the hearing.

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-California, asks the witnesses whether they received "adequate specifications" for what they were asked to do. His conclusion from their responses: “What I hear unanimously is that there were adequate specifications”

A tea party group joins the conversation, tweeting

12:33 p.m. ET – The hearing breaks for five minutes.

12:22 p.m. ET - Asked if she would change her September 10 testimony about the website, Campbell says she would not have changed anything. Slavitt says the same thing.

12:16 p.m. ET - It's official. "Monkey court" is making waves on Twitter.

12:06 p.m. ET – Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, says while the witnesses were testifying, he went on Amazon to try to find a TV and had instant results that he could compare. But he had a lot more difficulty being able to try to compare different insurance plans on HealthCare.gov.

The congressman argues it cost more to build HealthCare.gov than it did to build Facebook.

Scalise asks each of the four witnesses if they delivered the product they were asked to build. They also say 'yes.'

12:03 p.m. ET - Campbell agrees that the state-run exchange websites are performing better than the federal website, HealthCare.gov

12:01 p.m. ET - Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Georgia, asks the witnesses if the website rollout would have been smoother if they had six more months to test. Campbell says she can't give a "yes" or "no" answer. Slavitt says more time for testing is always helpful for a product.

Gingrey also referenced CNN's Sanjay Gupta's interview with Secretary Sebelius. Here it is:

11:57 a.m. ET – Campbell says the last modification for the website happened in August.

11:48 a.m. ET – Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, asks who was in charge of overseeing all of the contractors and development of the website? The witness said CMS was in charge.

The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare is the government agency that oversees all government-run health programs: Medicaid, Medicare, Children's Health Insurance Program. It is also the agency that is in charge of the Affordable Care Act.

11:39 a.m. ET - One of the witnesses, Andrew Slavitt, was asked if he tried registering on HealthCare.Gov, and he said he did but it was not successful. Another witness, Cheryl Campbell, said she did have success.

11:26 a.m. ET – Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, says he's more nervous today than before he got there because of what he has heard in the hearing. The chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence says he's shocked to hear that the window for functionality and security testing was only two months.

"I am more nervous today than I was when I got here," he says. "I am shocked, shocked that on August 30th you get an independent check that says the system is fine and you introduce new code to that system probably daily, probably in the terms of hundreds of thousands of lines, at least tens of thousands of lines of new code which creates new vulnerabilities in the system. and you don’t even know the answer if these things are end to end security tested number one, and number two you are not even sure if it is in your piece is end to end ongoing security tested."

Flashback: President Obama met with heads of health insurance companies yesterday to discuss Obamacare roll out problems.

Insurance companies agreed not to oppose the health care law back during its creation as long as they would get millions of new customers.

11:24 a.m. ET – Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas,who is the second highest Senator and up for reelection in 2014, released a statement that says this: “After more than three years, Obamacare still isn't ready for primetime and a six-week delay won't change anything. Every minute the President spends slow-walking this disaster is costing taxpayers more money. He needs to face reality: Obamacare is coming apart at the seams and it's time to put this broken law to rest.”

11:21 a.m. ET – The White House did not provide direct instructions to mask premium prices on the website, Campbell says.

11:11 a.m. ET - Responding to GOP Rep. Joe Barton's claim that the website violates The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act because it asks for personal information before enrolling, Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colorado, argues the website doesn't ask for any medical information other than "do you smoke?" Therefore, she argues, the website doesn't violate HIPAA.

10:59 a.m. ET - The woman in charge of the implementation of Obamacare is Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. She's not at today's hearing. She's out west selling the health exchanges.

10:57 a.m. ET – Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, asks the witnesses if they were too optimistic in their predictions for the success of the website when they testified on September 10.

"I don't think so, sir," Campbell said. "September 10, we were quite optimistic that our portion of the system would work effectively when the system went live."

The other witnesses also said they were not too optimistic.

10:51 a.m. ET – Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, R-Pennsylvania, asks if it crashed with only 2,000 users, is volume really the issue?

10:50 a.m. ET -

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is also talking about immigration today

10:44 a.m. ET – Rep. Eliot L. Engel, D-New York, says "it's amazing to me that our Republican colleagues are so concerned" about the ACA since they tried to defund and delay it. He says Republicans should try to work with Democrats to improve the system rather than play "gotcha politics."

Engel harkens back to when Medicare Part D was launched and had some website programs, as well, but reminded committee members that the glitches were solved.

"Even if a program gets off to a rocky start, that does not mean we need to jump to conclusions about its long term success," he says.

CGI did work implementing Medicare's largest expansion, the Part D program.

10:42 a.m. ET - Rep. John Shimkus, R-Illinois, asks about beta testing and asks for more names at each company, wanting to know more about the people responsible for the testing.

10:34 a.m. ET - Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, represents Silicon Valley and says she's surprised that the witnesses don't seem to find the technical issues as problematic as users have.

"This is the 21st century. It's 2013. There are thousands of websites that handle concurrent volumes far larger than what healthcare.gov was faced with. You keep speaking about unexpected volumes, Mrs. Campbell...I think that's really kind of a lame excuse. Amazon and eBay don't crash the week before Christmas," she says.

Eshoo asks if there was testing done. Campbell says they had independent contractors do CGI's testing, and their systems worked.

10:28 a.m. ET - Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, says President Obama attempts to paint Republicans as out-of-order in their criticism of the health care law.

The crazy part, Hall says, is seeing Sebelius laughing on the Daily Show when Americans are facing frustration while trying to access the site.

He asks Campbell to tell him what he can tell his constituents about the websites. He says he represents 700,000 constituents and he thinks about 690,000 of them "hate the Obama law."

"I would tell your constituents that the system is improving day after day," she says.

10:25 a.m. ET - Campbell says CGI, in addition to being a contractor for HealthCare.Gov, is also a contractor for the websites of many state-run exchanges, including Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont, California, Kentucky, and New Mexico.

10:23 a.m. ET – Rep. Pallone, D- New Jersey, accuses Republicans of distorting the facts to scare people and calls the hearing a "monkey court." Here's the exchange:

PALLONE: No health information is required in the application process and why is that? Because pre-existing conditions don’t matter. So once again here we have my Republican colleagues trying to scare everybody.
BARTON: Will the gentleman yield?
PALLONE: No I will not yield to this is monkey court or whatever this thing is.
BARTON: This is not a monkey court.
PALLONE: Do whatever you want. I am not yielding. I am trying to tell you that the problem here...(crosstalk) that no pre-existing condition...
BARTON: The fact that American citizens (crosstalk)...is a legitimate concern of this committee.
PALLONE: the pre-existing conditions don’t matter. HIPAA doesn’t apply. There is no health information in the process. You are asked about your address, your date of birth, you are not asked about health information so why are we going down this path? Because you are trying to scare people so they don’t apply.

HealthCare.gov: What works, what doesn't

10:12 a.m. ET - Rep. Dingell asks if CGI conducted testing of the website prior to the launch. Campbell says "yes." He asks if CGI was responsible for testing the entirety of HealthCare.Gov. Campbell says "no," then adds that CMS was responsible.

"It's clear that we have plenty to do in the coming weeks, and I hope and pray that we will be up to the task," he says.

Wondering what the commonly used term CMS is? It's the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare. It's the government agency that oversees all government-run health programs: Medicaid, Medicare, Children's Health Insurance Program.  It is also the agency that is in charge of the Affordable Care Act.

10:11 a.m. ET – Rep. Blackburn asks for error logs from the contractors to see how many people are actually trying to access the system, but not having success.

10:06 a.m. ET – Rep. Blackburn asks the witnesses to submit in writing how much they're being paid.

10:05 a.m. ET -

10:05 a.m. ET – Campbell says CGI passed its tests before the website went live on October 1 and they worked.

10:03 a.m. ET - Campbell says people will be able to enroll at a faster pace by December 15. Asked if CGI needs to rewrite millions of lines of code or start from scratch, she says they don't need to take such actions.

9:59 a.m. ET – Slavitt says Optum was confident the data services hub would be fine. He says they shared other concerns they noticed with CMS.

9:57 a.m. ET – Campbell says it was not CGI's decision to go live, but CMS's decision.

Obamacare website glitches caused by software shortcomings, official says

9:56 a.m. ET – Upton asks if there was ever a consideration to delay the launch of the website, none of the witnesses "yes."

9:55 a.m. ET - John Lau, program director of Serco, testifies.

"Our primary role in the early days of the implementation is to key enter paper applications into the eligibility system," his written testimony states.

Read his full testimony.

9:50 a.m. ET – Lynn Spellecy, corporate counsel for Equifax Workforce Solutions, explains the role of Equifax in the Obamacare website.

"The Affordable Care Act charged CMS to assist Americans with the purchase of health insurance through their employers and exchanges. After a competitive bidding process that included a Request for Information and a Request for Proposal, CMS awarded a contract to Equifax Workforce Solutions in March of this year to provide real time verification of income and employment to the CMS Data Hub to facilitate the verification of eligibility for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), as well as for eligibility for premium tax credits and reduced cost sharing," she says.

Read her full testimony.

9:45 a.m. ET - Andrew Slavitt, Group Executive Vice President of Optum/QSSI, a business unit of UnitedHealth Group.

"Simply put, the Data Services Hub is a pipeline that transfers data – routing queries and responses between a given marketplace and various trusted data sources," he says. "Certain information the consumer provides to the marketplace, such as citizenship, must be verified. The Data Services Hub
directs queries to information sources, such as government databases, that can verify that information, and sends the responses back to the marketplace."

"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," he adds.

Read his full testimony.

9:40 a.m. ET – Since CGI was awarded the contract in September 2011, it has worked "diligently to deliver" the website, Campbell says. The website passed eight required technical reviews prior to going live on October 1, she adds.

9:37 a.m. ET - Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president of CGI Federal, says the The Federal Exchange, including the the software application known as the Federally Facilitated Marketplace, is "not a standard consumer website."

"Rather, the FFM is part of an integrated technology platform that completely transforms the processes
of selecting and enrolling in insurance and determining eligibility for government subsidies," she say.

CGI is a Candadian company that is a major U.S. federal, state and local government contractor. According to it's website, it's revenue is $10.4 billion.

9:36 a.m. ET – Witnesses stand up and pledge to tell "the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

9:30 a.m. ET – Rep. John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat and longest-serving U.S. lawmaker in history, says he is "very frustrated" about the problems facing HealthCare.Gov. But he said a slow website for a new health care law is still a better alternative than no health care law at all.

When the Affordable Care Act was passed, then-house Speaker Nancy Pelosi used the gavel that Dingell used in 1965 when Medicare passed the House.

9:27 a.m. ET - Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colorado, says she gives the contractors "the benefit of the doubt" when they say things are improving. But she adds, "these problems need to be fixed fast."

9:23 a.m. ET – Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, says he doesn't have a good feeling about the hearing, because he thinks it's nothing but a political ploy by Republicans to chisel away at the Affordable Care Act.

"The Republicans don't have clean hands coming here," he said. "Their effort isn't to make this better, but to use the website as an excuse to delay or defund Obamacare."

"Do you really care? I don't think so. I just wish you could stop this obstruction, work with us to make this a better system," he adds.

9:07 a.m. ET – The hearing gets underway, with Chairman Fred Upton, R-Michigan, giving opening remarks. Vice chairman Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, and Ranking Member Henry Waxman, D-California, follow.

Upton's ascent to the top of the committee was not without a fight. When the GOP took control of the House in 2010, he barely beat out a more conservative Republican who was backed by the tea party.

Oh, and Rep. Upton is the uncle to model Kate Upton.

9:03 a.m. ET – Wondering who's holding this hearing on Obcamacare website woes? Here's a list of members of The House Energy and Commerce Committee.


Filed under: Congress • Health care
soundoff (154 Responses)
  1. Scott

    The President needs to fix the Obamacare rollout first. He says it's just glitches. So fix a few glitches, enroll 7 million in healthcare insurance plans, get the first checks in January for Obamacare, and then if Obamacare can stand on its own, pass a piecemeal immigration bill and fix the Mexican border.

    That means no more, nada, illegals through the southern border.

    Fixing Obamacare is a first step for immigration reform.

    October 24, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  2. Malory Archer

    Charlie

    If the goverment can't even make a website for healthcare work, then how can anyone expect them to run the healthcare system as a whole?

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Your comment might have merit IF:

    1. The government actually created and ran the website vs. outsourcing to a private entitiy.

    2. The government was actually running "the entire healthcare system" which they do quite well in the form of medicare/medicaid. The only problem with those programs are the greedy medical industrial corporations that commit fraud, waste and abuse. A simple, effective cure to that problem is single payer.

    That being said, the only thing the ACA does is provide a list of insurances available to consumers based on the information those consumers provide. If you're having problems with the website, pick up the phone, call the number provided on the website and speak with a real, live person. Problem solved.

    October 24, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  3. jrzydvl

    littletingod2013 – You can't be listening to your own party. The DEMs now see they were lied to and are calling for a delay. The same delay Obama would not an will not negotiate. So the DEMs shut down the gov for 16 days. Not the Repubs. In just 2 states, over 500k people lost health insurance. Now the website is down. If they do not get a plan in the next few months, they will pay a fine. That is what you are supporting. ACA willl collapse under its own weight, and Reid, Pelosi and Obama will get what they wanted all along, single payer health care. Maybe. THis si the second time the DEMs got snookered. Don';t forget, ACA gets people insurance, not health care. They still have to pay for healthcare. So we subsidized those who can't afford health insurance, What makes you think they can afford health care ? I see a tax hike on the rise....

    October 24, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  4. rs

    smith

    @rs- I know your mad because the ACA is off to a bad start. However, your little rant about the right means nothing to me because Im not on the right or left. Im for the US of A.
    ____________
    Sorry, Smith, I'm not mad at all. The ACA isn't off to a bad start, the web page is- it can get fixed. I too am for the USA, but is clear the Right isn't- hence, I'd much rather see the House hold a hearing into the waste and motivations of the GOP/TP and one Mr. Cruz than on why a web site didn't launch.

    October 24, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
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