Washington (United States) (AFP) – Confusion over various elements of a vast online apparatus bogged down the U.S. health care website’s debut, contractors will tell lawmakers Thursday at a hearing probing the troubled “Obamacare” rollout.
Furious Republicans have demanded answers about problems plaguing the new system, while the White House acknowledged more technical hangups with President Barack Obama’s signature health care reforms.
Obama is facing a barrage of criticism for failures stemming from this month’s debut of Healthcare.gov, through which millions of Americans are expected to buy insurance.
The process has been overwhelmed by technical glitches on the website, which critics have blasted as a half-billion-dollar disaster.
The Washington Post reported late Wednesday that the government will now give people extra time to obtain coverage or pay a penalty. It quoted an official in the Department of Health and Human Services.
The paper quoted the official as saying this is not related to the technical glitches but rather to confusion over one aspect of the timing of the law — under which for the first time most Americans have to buy health insurance or face a penalty.
The doubt was over whether people had to be covered by the end of an enrollment period that concludes March 31, or simply have purchased a health plan by then. These have a lag time before they take effect.
The administration official said the new rule is that simply buying into a plan at any point during the enrollment period will spare people from paying the fine.
The House of Representatives’ Republican leadership — long opposed to the reform — has seized the opportunity to schedule three hearings, including a panel on Thursday where contractors involved in the nuts and bolts of the website will likely face a hostile reception.
The contractors will argue that the website serves as a “complex transaction processor” that links millions of customers in real time to federal databases like those of the Social Security Administration as well as to those of more than 170 insurance carriers, and that the initial high volume of users clogged the system.
“Unfortunately, in systems this complex with so many concurrent users, it is not unusual to discover problems that need to be addressed once the software goes into a live production environment,” CGI Federal senior vice president Cheryl Campbell will tell the House Energy and Commerce Committee according to prepared remarks released late Wednesday.
“This is true regardless of the level of formal end-to-end performance testing,” according to Campbell’s testimony.
“No amount of testing within reasonable time limits can adequately replicate a live environment of this nature.”
She said a main problem arose at the entryway to the system, where the requirement to create a secure account caused “a bottleneck that prevented the vast majority of users from accessing” the exchanges.
Meanwhile, the latest response from the White House suggested the problems might be deeper than an expensive Web interface.
On Wednesday, 14 health insurance chief executives met with White House officials and under-fire Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss the hiccups.