Contractors: More testing of HealthCare.gov was needed

Contractors say they are working to fix website problems and the site is getting better

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services took too little time testing how the many components of the troubled HealthCare.gov worked together before rolling out the insurance marketplace, contractors involved in the project said Thursday.

The HSS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services [CMS] spent two weeks testing the complex, US$500 million website in house before it launched Oct. 1 to widespread errors and slow load times, representatives of two major contractors working on the site told members of Congress.

CGI Federal, one of the main contractors for the Obamacare website, "would have liked to have months" to test how the multiple pieces of the project worked together, said Cheryl Campbell, a senior vice president for the company.

Yet, Campbell said CGI Federal did not ask CMS for more time to test the project, saying the decision on when to launch was up to CMS. Optum/QSSI, another contractor responsible for testing the website, did recommend more testing, but the project moved forward to meet its scheduled launch, said Andrew Slavitt, group executive vice president for the company.

Several members of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, particularly Republicans who have long tried to repeal Obamacare, ripped into the contractors for the website failures. The launch of HealthCare.gov has been "nothing short of a disaster," Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the committee, said during Thursday's hearing.

Contractors assured committee members during a Sept. 10 hearing that the website would be ready to go, several lawmakers noted.

Many Democratic committee members accused Republicans of using the website problems to again question the need for the law. But several Democrats also said they were disappointed with the site performance.

Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, questioned the contractors' testimony saying a large number of visitors caused many of the website's problems in the days after the launch.

"There are thousands of websites that handle concurrent volumes far larger than what HealthCare.gov was faced with," she said. "Amazon and eBay don't crash the week before Christmas, and ProFlowers doesn't crash on Valentine's Day."

Both Campbell and Slavitt said their companies tested their pieces of the project and were confident they would work as planned Oct. 1. But HealthCare.gov, one way for uninsured U.S. residents to shop for and sign up for health insurance under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, experienced massive problems in the first days of operation.

Four contractors testifying at the hearing generally pointed their fingers at other contractors or at HHS as the reason for the problems.

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