Government Did Not Test Health Care Site as Needed

2:31 PM, Oct 24, 2013   |    comments
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Kelly Kennedy, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - Not enough tests were performed on the website by the government and its contractors before the site was launched Oct. 1, a Department of Health and Human Services official said Thursday.

"The system just wasn't tested enough," said Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is in charge of the site. "We all know we were working under a compressed time frame to launch this on Oct. 1."

Her remarks came after contractors testified at hearing Thursday morning that they had just two weeks to test the site before all the pieces from several contractors had to work together the day of the launch. The House Energy and Commerce Committee conducted the hearing to find out why the problems had not been resolved before the new site went live.

The site is getting better now, Bataille said. The department has added more bandwidth to cope with the high demand, performing more and improved testing before adding new elements to the site and have improved the application section of the site. That's where many consumers were getting delayed in their applications. New hardware is being added, Bataille said, and "bugs" are being fixed as they occur.

"We know the experience on has been frustrating," Bataille said.

However, determining many of the problems the system would have after the various parts were integrated was difficult until the site actually went online, Bataille said. It was the agency's responsibility to make sure all of the parts worked together.

Other changes to the site this week, Bataille said, include improvements in the data hub, which determines what kinds of subsidies or Medicaid people are eligible for on both the federal and the state exchanges. Applications there, she said, are now processed within "a second."

About 700,000 applications have been submitted across the nation, which means that people have received their eligibility determinations and may now shop for insurance and enroll in a plan.

"This tremendous interest confirms that Americans are looking for quality, affordable health coverage," Bataille said.

Still, she said the application process still had some "bugs," such as error messages, pages going blank or things freezing.

"Those are the kinds of things we are prioritizing," Bataille said.

In the meantime, she said 1.6 million people have called the call center, where they may also apply, and that they wait for help for less than a minute.

During the House hearing, contractors said CMS decided at the last minute not to allow people to shop for plans before learning what kinds of tax credits they might receive.

Bataille called that a "business decision" because CMS needed to prioritize the ability to launch, verify eligibility and enroll in a plan.

"We are seeing many more consumers successfully creating their accounts and moving on," she said.

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