“It was not our decision to go live,” said Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president of CGI Federal, which handled most of the project. She said the decision was made by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services.
CMS officials declined to spell out why the complete tests started so late.
“This system just wasn’t tested enough,” Julie Bataille, director of CMS’s office of communications, acknowledged to reporters. She repeatedly cited what she called “a compressed time frame” without explaining what that meant or the reasons for it.
“We are putting into place a much more rigorous testing process now,” Bataille said during the first of what the administration has said will be regular briefings on the progress of the Web site.
Thursday’s hearing was called by the House committee’s Republican majority, which vehemently opposes the Affordable Care Act and has brandished the Web site’s flaws as fresh evidence of the overall problems with the law.
The online marketplace is a major component of the 2010 law that is revising the nation’s health-care system. HealthCare.gov and similar state Web sites are meant to be one-stop shopping sites for health insurance for Americans who cannot get or afford coverage through a job. People who log on are supposed to be able to see an array of plans available to them at different price points and to apply for government assistance that will help most of them buy insurance.
But many who have tried to use the site have been locked out, and reports continue to emerge about errors discovered deeper in the system. Administration officials said this week they have enlisted leading experts as part of a “tech surge” to address the problems, but have declined to say when the site will be fixed.
A smoothly running site is critical, in part because most uninsured people will be required next year to carry health insurance or pay a fine.
The Department of Health and Human Services declined to send a representative to the hearing. However, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is scheduled to testify before the panel on Wednesday. Talking with reporters Thursday, Bataille ducked questions about whether Sebelius had been aware that tests in the two weeks before the online marketplace opened showed that the Web site wasn’t entirely working.
The Washington Post reported this week that as late as Sept. 26, there had been no “end-to-end” testing of the site mimicking the real-life experience of thousands of users simultaneously trying to get online and buy coverage. During the first such test, the system crashed at a few hundred users, according to people familiar with the project.