Health IT

Everbody was angry at Congressional hearing about healthcare.gov

After more than four hours, the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing to better understand the flaws behind the Healthcare.Gov website did not have much in the way of details. The contractors gave up little in the way of new information, except to say it could done with months of testing of the end to […]

After more than four hours, the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing to better understand the flaws behind the Healthcare.Gov website did not have much in the way of details. The contractors gave up little in the way of new information, except to say it could done with months of testing of the end to end system instead of the handful of days CMS allotted.

But it was full of anger and rancor and a little partisanship. The louder the demands got for names, paperwork, and answers to questions “by 9 am tomorrow!”, the less satisfaction the committee seemed to get.

Democrat and Republican representatives expressed an equal amount of frustration with the failure of most people to be able to use the federal website. Some Republicans tended to use the errors as a blunt object that it would metaphorically bang on the table to demonstrate why Obamacare should be dismantled.

The contractors, for the most part, pushed the blame to CMS. The contractors included:

  • John Lau a program director with Serco, responsible for processing paper applications
  • Lynn Spellecy,the corporate counsel for Equifax Workforce Solutions, which is responsible for the salary verification component of healthcare.gov
  • Andrew Slavitt of UnitedHealth Group’s Optum a business unit of UnitedHealthcare, which was responsible for identification verification
  • Cheryl Campbell, the senior vice president of CGI Federal, which had the largest contract, got most of the attention.

Going by their fairly tight lipped responses, the contractors  didn’t give too much reason to be optimistic that the problems would be fixed anytime soon. Each of them assured the committee that they had tested their portion of the system thoroughly. But they did not volunteer to CMS that once components like identity verification, salary verification and the dashboard were assembled, the government body needed to do much more in the way of end-to-end testing.

One of the few exceptions was Andrew Slavitt of Quality Software Services Inc., a unit of the UnitedHealth Group. He said his group told CMS they needed more time to test the website. Campbell later acknowldged that she would have liked to have seen months of testing of the website by CMS.

Campbell said it was not up to her company to tell CMS when the site should go live. That was CMS’ decision.

Rep Joe Barton (R-Texas) tried to create a stir with a smoking gun like slide full of words circled and highlighted. He pointed out that it was source code from healthcare.gov that violated HIPAA because it said that the government could access users’ information. But Rep Frank Pallone (D-NJ) countered that HIPAA only protects patients’ health information. The only health information requested on healthcare.gov is whether subscribers smoke or not, soit came over like a tempest in a teacup.

One of the few interesting revelations was when Campbell said CGI had received eight change orders from the Obama administration. Another was that an anonymous shopping feature was disabled based on a decision by Henry Chao, the deputy chief information officer with CMS.

Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, should save a lot of energy for her appearance before the committee next week. And bring a thick skin. Some detailed answers would be nice too.

[Capitol Hill by Flickr user Will Palmer]

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