NEWS: Washington Post: Health insurance exchange launched despite signs of serious problems

October 22, 2013

New Revelations Undercut Administration’s Assurances that the Health Law’s Launch Was “On Track”

Lead Contractors Set to Testify on Thursday as Part of Committee’s Push for Health Law Transparency

In the months leading up to the health care law’s botched October 1 rollout, administration officials and contractors alike assured committee members that implementation was “on track.” The Washington Post today reveals that behind the scenes, it was a much different story. According to the Post, “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services… invited about 10 insurers to give advice and help test the website. About a month before the exchange opened, this testing group urged agency officials not to launch it nationwide because it was still riddled with problems…” On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on PPACA Implementation: Didn’t Know or Didn’t Disclose? Four of the health law’s top contractors, QSSI, CGI, Serco, and Equifax will testify. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is confirmed to testify before the full committee next Wednesday.

October 21, 2013

Health insurance exchange launched despite signs of serious problems

Days before the launch of President Obama’s online health ­insurance marketplace, government officials and contractors tested a key part of the Web site to see whether it could handle tens of thousands of consumers at the same time. It crashed after a simulation in which just a few hundred people tried to log on simultaneously.

Despite the failed test, federal health officials plowed ahead.

When the Web site went live Oct. 1, it locked up shortly after midnight as about 2,000 users attempted to complete the first step, according to two people familiar with the project. …

Plenty of red flags

There were ample warning signs that the system was not working properly, according to people familiar with the project.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency in charge of running the health insurance exchange in 36 states, invited about 10 insurers to give advice and help test the Web site.

About a month before the exchange opened, this testing group urged agency officials not to launch it nationwide because it was still riddled with problems, according to an insurance IT executive who was close to the rollout.

“We discussed . . . is there a way to do a pilot — by state, by geographic region?” the executive said.

It was clear at the time, the executive said, that the CMS was still dealing with the way the exchange handled enrollment, federal subsidies and the security of consumers’ personal information, such as income.

One key problem, according to a person close to the project, was that the agency assumed the role of managing the 55 contractors involved and had not ensured that all the pieces were working together.

Some key testing of the system did not take place until the week before launch, according to this person. As late as Sept. 26, there had been no tests to determine whether a consumer could complete the process from beginning to end: create an account, determine eligibility for federal subsidies and sign up for a health insurance plan, according to two sources familiar with the project.

People working on the project knew that Oct. 1 was set in stone as a launch date. “We named it the tyranny of the October 1 date,” said a person close to the project. …

Read the entire story online here.

###