In front of Congress, the Secretary of Health and Human Services gave a glimpse Wednesday into what they knew about the now ailing Affordable Care Act health exchange site before launching, and apparently, they didn't know much.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Wednesday that there had never been full end-to-end testing of the site prior to its public release, and contracted component parts were compiled just a week before launch.
"We did not do adequate end-to-end testing," Sebelius said. She could not say if end-to-end testing had yet been completed on the site. Sebelius apologized to the public for the problem, calling it a "debacle."
Sebelius is the second official to be called before a congressional hearing this week. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator Marilyn Tavenner was called in on Tuesday, to provide oversight into the problems plaguing the website since its Oct. 1 launch date.
The site's problems were originally attributed to high initial traffic volume on the site, with more than 20 million hits on the website to date. However, it was later discovered that there were underlying issues with the website and back-end systems.
Tavenner pointed fingers Tuesday at contractor CGI Federal, which designed the application process, and congressmen questioned Sebelius on CGI's under-oath testimony prior to launch that it was confident in the systems functionality.
"I assured [the President] that we were ready to go, but with a big plan, there were likely to be some problems. No one anticipated this level of problems," Sebelius said at the hearing.
Sebelius said she believed CGI had prepared their independent system well, but all component parts of the exchange were not locked in until the third week of September, just a week before its launch.
CGI has already been paid $104 million of the $197 million obligated to them under contract by March 2014, Sebelius said. Although more work is required on the back end and the other major contractor, QSSI, has been pulled in as system administrator, Sebelius said it has not yet been determined if the contractors will get a bigger paycheck down the road.
A source familiar with the contracts told CRN that the site was a "well-documented failure at this point" and blamed the issues on the lack of time for the contractors to put the systems in place. The source said the contractors did not receive final technical requirements for the systems they were supposed to build until May, just five months before launch.
"When the White House keeps talking about how there were three years to do this thing, there really was about five months," the source told CRN.
The source said a third of work already done had to be thrown out and redone to comply with the final requirements. Even despite that, he said that he wasn't aware of any deadlines CGI missed during the process.
When asked if she thought the public could trust the contractors to pull through and provide a successful system, Sebelius said she was confident the deadline set for the end of November for a functional system could be met despite previous setbacks.
PUBLISHED OCT. 30, 2013