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Medicare Chief Points Finger At Solution Provider For Obamacare Site Flop

Sarah Kuranda

In a congressional hearing Tuesday, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Marilyn Tavenner apologized for the site's flopped rollout and pointed her finger at contractor CGI Federal for failing to deliver in time to make it successful.

Tavenner appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee as part of a series of congressional hearings looking into the problems surrounding the Affordable Care Act site launch on Oct. 1. The site's problems were first attributed to high volumes of unexpected visitor traffic but underlying software issues were later found.

When pressed by Congressman Jim Gerlach during the hearing to expand on her written testimony that placed the blame on contract failures, Tavenner said specifically CGI failed to deliver on its contract.

[Related: Obamacare Site Disaster: 10 Steps Solution Providers Would Take To Fix It ]

"We have been working with a contractor. We have had some issues with timing of delivery," Tavenner said. "That contractor is CGI."

Tavenner blamed CGI for the site's failure to meet expectations. The site was built using private contractors, for a price tag of well over $500 million, and acts as a healthcare portal for 36 states, with the remaining 14 states designing their own systems. CGI alone was given a $93.7 million contract to build the health insurance exchange. Tavenner could not say if there were any provisions in place regarding government repayment in the event contracted work failed to perform.

"CMS has a track record of successfully overseeing the many contractors our programs depend on to function. Unfortunately, a subset of those contracts for have not met expectations," Tavenner said in her written testimony.

Although some have said the website has shown improvement, Tavenner refused multiple requests during the hearing for the number of enrollments actually able to complete the process, saying only that they would be released later next month. The government has said that it plans to have the site up and running smoothly by the end of November.

However, a source familiar with the CGI contract said that CMS was just trying to "backpedal" on the bad publicity the site has been getting and point fingers.

"I'm not aware of deadlines or milestones that CGI failed to deliver on. That's not something that I'm aware of at all," the source, who requested anonymity, told CRN. "I think the bigger question is: What was CMS doing to actually manage a process that actually made sense against a system lifecycle development process?"

"The question isn't were the contractors late on delivery; the question is what was going on in the first place," the source said.

The source said CGI didn't even get the final site requirements from CMS until five months before the launch, even though the project had supposedly been underway for three years, meaning a lot of the work already done had to be scrapped.

He said CGI was only one of 55 contractors involved with building the site, with CMS acting as the systems integrator.

"You can draw your own conclusions," the source said. "There's been a lot of finger pointing, and it's hard to put it in one place. There were things that CGI probably could have done better, but I think there were a lot of other issues at play as well."


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