Troubled healthcare website not tested enough

Contractors blame administration for changes that have led to glitches, delays and errors

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 9:09pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 October, 2013, 3:07am

The Obama administration launched its troubled healthcare insurance website after only a minimum of crucial system-wide testing, despite contractors warning officials repeatedly about performance risks, a congressional panel heard.

Witnesses said on Thursday that the administration did not conduct end-to-end testing of the system's technology backbone until just the two weeks before one of the lynchpins of President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare policy opened to consumers on October 1.

At a US House of Representatives oversight committee hearing, contractors also blamed the administration for a last-minute design change that has been identified as a flaw responsible for leading millions of visitors into system bottlenecks.

Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, the agency implementing the online marketplace, acknowledged the contractors' testimony.

"Due to a compressed time frame, the system wasn't tested enough," Bataille said. "What's important to realise is that we are putting in place a much more robust performance testing system now."

She also told reporters that in-house "business decisions" prompted CMS to require online visitors to create accounts before shopping for health plans and prompted the agency to assume the key role of system integrator for Healthcare.gov.

The glitches, delays and errors that have characterised the website are a growing concern for Republicans and Democrats alike. The administration is racing to solve the problems in time for millions of uninsured Americans to enrol for coverage and begin receiving health benefits from January 1, as stipulated by the 2010 Affordable Care Act, commonly called "Obamacare".

CMS said on Thursday that about 700,000 applications had been submitted so far for US healthcare coverage through the exchanges.

"We would certainly have liked to see as much time as possible for end-to-end testing," said Andrew Slavitt, executive vice president for the parent of CGI Federal and Quality Software Services Inc, or QSSI, a unit of health insurer UnitedHealth Group.

QSSI produced the federal data hub and a software tool for creating online consumer accounts, which was at the centre of early logjam problems.