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Health Law Website Contractors Deflect Criticism at Hearing

Health Law Website Contractors Deflect Criticism at Hearing

By Adam O'Neal - October 24, 2013

Several top federal contractors who worked on the healthcare.gov website received a bipartisan grilling about the portal’s rocky rollout from members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday. However, they provided little new information through their cautious testimony, deflecting blame for flaws on the Obama administration.

Committee Chairman Fred Upton began the hearing by pointing out that contractors and government officials expressed confidence in the website at a Sept. 10 hearing. The Michigan Republican said that thus far the administration appeared “allergic to transparency.”

“Did they not know? Or did they not disclose?” Upton asked.

CGI Federal Senior Vice President Cheryl Campbell told the committee that her company worked only on portions of the website and that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) -- an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services -- is ultimately responsible for the integrated site’s success or failure.

Asked if they had recommended delaying the Web portal’s launch, the contractors said it was not within their jurisdiction to make such assessments. They asserted that the major problems witnessed since the Oct. 1 unveiling arose when CMS compiled the different components into one entity.

Andrew Slavitt, group executive vice president of Optum/QSSI, said his company warned the administration about possible failures. He told the committee that certain risks had been identified and “we passed them along.”

Democrats alternated between generally praising the health care law and suggesting that the hearing was a political stunt not held in good faith. Several also submitted that the hearing was intended as a distraction from the impact of the recent government shutdown.

Rep. Henry Waxman of California, in an opening statement, said Republicans should want to fix the website and should use the hearing to that end -- “but that has not been their agenda so far.”

Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey described the hearing as a “cynical” Republican effort to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act, not fix it.

“I will not yield to this monkey court!” he shouted.

Some Democrats, however, joined their GOP colleagues in pressing the contractors for explanations.

Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, who represents parts of Silicon Valley, said that blaming unexpectedly high traffic for the website’s problems was a “lame excuse.” She pointed out that “thousands” of websites experience comparable traffic without difficulty.

“Taxpayers paid you a lot of money,” Eshoo said, adding, “You’re essentially saying to us that everything’s all right when it’s not.”

Asked to give an exact date for when the glitches would abate and the site would begin performing well, Campbell declined: “I would prefer not doing that. I don’t like to raise expectations.” 

Adam O'Neal is a political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at aoneal@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearAdam.

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