The Obama administration expressed confidence on Thursday that consumers will be able to apply and successfully enroll for coverage by Dec. 15 in order to start receiving benefits by Jan. 1, echoing claims by the principle contractors responsible for HealthCare.gov.
Nearly 700,000 applications had been submitted in both the state and federally-run exchanges, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Communications Director Julie Bataille, told reporters in the first public update of implementation, adding that the law’s call centers have received 1.6 million calls since Oct. 1. Bataille added that approximately 1/3 of the visits to HealthCare.gov are “actively seeking to understand what the marketplace is” while “2/3 are actively seeking to go on to marketplace and begin that account creation.”
The remarks came just minutes after the House Energy and Commerce Committee concluded a five-hour hearing with website contractors CGI Federal and QSSI. Several of the witnesses testified that while they had tested the individual components they’d designed, the task of integrating the site “end-to-end” fell to CMS, which appears to have only reviewed the full site two weeks before launch. At least one contractor also claimed that it had warned the federal government of high error rates before Oct. 1.
Bataille admitted that the “compressed time frame” of implementation did not allow time for comprehensive testing, forcing the agency to make a “business decision” and prioritize certain elements. Two weeks before the launch date, the agency decided to go without a “window shopping” tool that would have allowed users to compare plans and see prices without creating a login account. That appeared to have created a traffic bottle neck at the site’s entry point and caused massive delays and glitches.
The government gave the impression that the capability and capacity of the site is improving and noted that the often-reported problem of insurers receiving erroneous or duplicative enrollment information — called 834 forms — was a “fairly isolated issue” that “has been getting better.” Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president of CGI, one of the firms that wrote the website, made a similar assessment during the House hearing.
Asked twice by reporters if HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius knew of the problems plaguing the website before the Oct. 1 launch date, Bataille first avoided the question, but then said that the administration could not have predicted the large demand for coverage. Sebelius will testify before Congress on Oct. 30.