By Amy Schatz
WASHINGTON--Contractors responsible for the troubled federal health insurance portal are pointing fingers at each other and the administration, according to testimony released Wednesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
According to the testimony, CGI Federal, the lead contractor for HealthCare.gov, said the federal agency in charge of the project was "the ultimate responsible party for the end-to-end performance of the overall" health exchange. The House committee is holding a hearing on the performance of the health portal Thursday.
CGI also said its system passed eight technical reviews before going live and that problems came instead from a system designed by another contractor, UnitedHealth Group Inc.'s (UNH) Optum unit, which verifies users' identities. That "created a bottleneck that prevented the vast majority of users from accessing" the exchange, according to testimony of Cheryl Campbell, a senior vice president at CGI Federal.
Optum group executive vice president Andrew Slavitt said in his prepared testimony that a decision to disable anonymous shopping "may have driven higher simultaneous usage of the registration system that wouldn't have occurred if consumers could 'window shop' anonymously."
The company worked "around the clock" to boost capacity and "by October 8, even at high levels of registration" the company's system was operating at "error rates close to zero," Mr. Slavitt said in the testimony.
Earlier this week, CGI executives told House investigators that Obama administration officials made a last-minute change in September to sideline a feature on the site that would have allowed for anonymous shopping. Instead, users had to create accounts before they could see rates. The administration has since reversed that decision.
The House hearing kicks off a new round of debate on President Barack Obama's health-care law. The focus will be on the troubled launch of health insurance exchanges designed for Americans to shop and enroll in new plans. At least two more congressional hearings are scheduled next week, including a panel that is expected to grill Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Four contractors are scheduled to testify Thursday about their systems and what went wrong Oct. 1, when the website was launched.
Write to Amy Schatz at email@example.com
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 23, 2013 17:45 ET (21:45 GMT)Copyright (c) 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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