HealthCare.gov has been plagued with problems since the day it launched, but for two weeks, Congress was too consumed with the government shutdown to do much about it.
Now, Republicans are ready to give the dysfunctional Obamacare website their full attention.
In a series of hearings this week and next, the Republican-led House will investigate the multiple technical flaws with the website, as well as whether any of the decisions that led to the site’s poor design were politically motivated.
Republicans will have plenty to sink their teeth into: Over the past three weeks, prospective enrollees have had trouble creating accounts or getting accurate cost estimates. The Spanish version of the website has yet to launch. Tests conducted just days before its Oct. 1 launch showed that just a few hundred users crashed the site, according to one report.
“The rollout of Obamacare is nothing short of a debacle,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Wednesday. “And the American people are now fearful of their health care. I mean downright scared about what’s going to happen with their health care next year. And all we’re hearing from the administration really is—is really unsatisfactory in terms of answers to the many, many unanswered questions.”
The Obama administration and their Democratic allies have tried to downplay the technological flaws, noting that the website isn’t the only way for Americans to enroll in the new insurance marketplace created under Obamacare—they also point out that the new marketplace is just one aspect of the sweeping health care law.
White House officials have also come out swinging against Republicans, undercutting the credibility of the GOP-led investigations.
“We cooperate with all legitimate congressional oversight,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday. He then questioned whether House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, D-Calif.—one of the congressional Republicans leading the investigations into the flawed website rollout—is conducting “legitimate” oversight.
“What is this, Chairman Issa’s committee? So we’ll see,” he said to reporters. “I’m just saying that I think everybody here who wasn’t born yesterday has seen questionable congressional oversight in the past. I’m not saying in regard to this issue, I’m just saying in the past.”
The oversight begins Thursday in the House Energy and Commerce Committee with testimony from four of the contractors who helped build the dysfunctional website: CGI Federal, QSSI, Equifax and Serco. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who’s responsible for the implementation of Obamacare, will not testify, citing a scheduling conflict. She will, however, appear next Wednesday before the same committee.
The line of questioning is sure to be intense, and the opening statements from the witnesses suggest they’re ready to pass the blame on to others.
Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president of CGI Federal, says in her prepared statement that her company met its obligations in helping to build the exchange system and that “no amount of testing within reasonable time limits can adequately replicate a live environment of this nature.” She also said noted that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is “the ultimate responsible party for the end-to-end performance of the overall Federal Exchange.”
When Campbell testified before the Energy and Commerce Committee in September, she assured lawmakers CGI would deliver a functional website. “We were told repeatedly that implementation was ‘on track,’ and it is now time for all those responsible to explain what happened,” Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., complained in a statement this week.
Campbell and the other contractors are likely to face questions not only about their own competence, but also about any political pressure they may have faced. When CGI officials briefed House Oversight Committee staffers about the website’s construction, they repeatedly alluded to “what the White House wants,” Republicans from the committee noted in a letter to administration officials this week.
Meanwhile, in his prepared statement for Thursday’s hearing, Andrew Slavitt of QSSI says the site’s registration system may have been bogged down at first because of “a late decision requiring consumers to register for an account before they could browse for insurance products.” Slavitt doesn’t say who made that decision, but Republicans have suggested that the administration made the decision for political reasons.
“This may have driven higher simultaneous usage of the registration system that wouldn’t have occurred if consumers could ‘window shop’ anonymously,” Slavitt says in his testimony.
“With hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent for a system that still does not work, Congress and the American people deserve answers,” Upton said in a statement. “And as the administration continues to withhold important details and enrollment figures, I hope Secretary Sebelius is ready to give answers and finally live up to the president’s celebrated claims of transparency.”
Along with the Energy and Commerce Committee, the House Committee on Ways and Means announced Wednesday that it will hold a hearing on the Affordable Care Act next week.
“After spending over $600 million, the American people want answers to some very basic questions about the launch of ObamaCare,” Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said in a statement. “Why doesn’t the website work? Why were the American people told everything would be ready, when it was clear that was not the case? How deep are the problems and how long will it take to get those problems fixed? And most importantly, if people can’t navigate such a dysfunctional and overly complex system, is it fair for the IRS to impose tax penalties?”
Meanwhile, Issa and other Republicans in the House Oversight Committee have fired off a number of letters demanding answers for the botched website. On Tuesday, Issa sent letters to tech companies like Verizon Enterprise Solutions, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, and Expedia, asking about their reported involvement in attempts to fix the website.