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Lead Contractor Urged More Testing on HealthCare.gov

Deborah Lielasus tries to sign up for insurance on the Affordable Care Act website Oct. 1. She only got as far as creating account before getting frustrated with site problems.

Deborah Lielasus tries to sign up for insurance on the Affordable Care Act website Oct. 1. She only got as far as creating account before getting frustrated with site problems. // Holly Ramer/AP

Contractors building the online health insurance marketplace HealthCare.gov warned government managers nearly one month before the site’s Oct. 1 launch that they did not have enough time to adequately test the system, according to documents released by congressional investigators on Tuesday.

The monthly status report from CGI Federal, dated Sept. 6, suggests “work[ing] with CMS to determine if any shifts can be made to allow for more time for performance testing.”

CGI built large portions of HealthCare.gov’s backend system.

In the end, officials held firm to the Oct. 1 launch date for the online marketplace, which only allowed for two weeks of end-to-end testing of the full system. That’s significantly less testing time than is afforded for most government and private sector projects and likely contributed to a disastrous first week for HealthCare.gov during which less than 1 percent of people who visited the site successfully enrolled in an insurance plan.

Site performance has improved significantly since HealthCare.gov’s first week but a majority of visitors are still not progressing all the way through the enrollment process.

The CGI report also noted problems with information passed between different contractors’ systems during the registration process. Failures during registration ended up being a major glitch in the site after launch.

The monthly report was presented in response to a request from House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and other Republican committee members.

Issa announced Tuesday morning that he had issued a subpoena to compel another HealthCare.gov contractor to turn over documents about its work. Administration officials have picked that contractor, Quality Software Services, or QSSI, to lead a “tech surge” to bring HealthCare.gov into working order by Nov. 30.

If the surge is successful, that would provide enough time for most insurance seekers to enroll in a plan before a Dec. 15 deadline established in President Obama’s health care reform law.

Representatives from QSSI told the House House Energy and Commerce committee last week that they expressed concern about the minimal testing HealthCare.gov underwent but said CMS made the call to go ahead.

In prepared testimony for a hearing before that same committee scheduled for Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius places a large share of the blame for HealthCare.gov’s failures on contractors, noting that “a subset of those contracts for HealthCare.gov have not met expectations.”

HHS is CMS’s parent organization. Issa has also requested documents from Sebelius’s office and threatened a subpoena if she does not comply. 

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