As contractors testified Thursday about the problems they experience building and testing the Obamacare website, federal officials admitted they had too little time to have a working product ready by its Oct. 1 launch.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services held a conference call with reporters to address the embarrassing launch of the system that was supposed to allow Americans to shop for health insurance easily on a website. Instead, people have been greeted with screens telling them the system is down.
"The system just wasn’t tested enough, especially for high volumes," NBC News
quoted CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille as telling reporters. "Obviously, due to a compressed time frame, the system wasn’t tested enough."
The Obamacare website was tested just days before it went public, while similar projects are tested for months, the main contractors told a House panel investigating flaws that hobbled the debut.
Units of CGI Group Inc. and UnitedHealth Group Inc., which designed healthcare.gov, said a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was responsible for the end-to-end testing that they said should have been done months earlier.
“It would have been better to have more time,” Cheryl Campbell, a senior vice president at CGI Federal Inc., the site designer, told the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She declined to say when the site would be free of impediments, and said it would be ready to meet all deadlines in the health law.
reported that the CMS conference call was wide-ranging, but that CMS sidestepped a question on whether Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was aware of the extent of the problem before the Oct. 1 launch.
CMS also refused to issue figures on how many people have signed up for health insurance through the federal website. White House officials, including Sebelius, have said the numbers for October will be released in November.
"This tremendous interest confirms that the American people are waiting for quality, affordable healthcare coverage," Bataille said, returning to a theme offered by the White House in the early days of the website's launch. Bataille noted that 700,000 people have made applications, but that number includes exchanges set up by some states. And simply creating an account does not mean that a person actually purchased health insurance.
"We do know consumers are getting through," Bataille said.
Bataille added without elaboration that it was a "business decision" to require people to create an account before allowing them to window shop.
E-commerce sites, including Medicare.gov, routinely allow anonymous shopping, and customers set up accounts when they check out. Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters said recently that window shopping wouldn't have let consumers first see if they were eligible for tax credits. The credits amount to a discount off the sticker price of premiums.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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