recommended reading

Sebelius: Restriction Aimed to Avoid Glitches, Not Cause Them

Evan Vucci/AP

A late decision to force visitors to register with the government’s online health insurance marketplace before they could see insurance plan prices was aimed at avoiding glitches, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told lawmakers on Wednesday.

She linked that decision with several other services the government opted to “pare back” during the last weeks before’s Oct. 1 launch in an effort to not bog the site down with extra tools.

As things turned out, that decision probably contributed to the site’s terrible performance during its first weeks online, according to earlier testimony from Quality Software Services, or QSSI, the contractor that built the faulty registration system and is now leading a “tech surge” to bring into working order by Nov. 30.

That late change forced more people into the registration system than it could handle, exacerbating other glitches, QSSI’s Group Executive Vice President Andrew Slavitt said.

As a result of that glitch and others, less than 1 percent of insurance seekers completed enrollment in a plan through during its first weeks online. The site’s performance has improved since then, but a majority of insurance seekers still don’t appear to be completing enrollment. The White House has declined to release enrollment numbers, saying they’d be inaccurate and misleading at this point.

Republican lawmakers have charged the decision to disable anonymous shopping was a political dictate from the White House aimed at preventing Americans who didn’t want to purchase insurance through the new marketplaces from learning those plans’ true costs.

Sebelius denied that charge under questioning from the House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday.

She said the decision didn’t come from her or from the White House but from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Marilyn Tavenner. CMS was the lead agency managing the building and launch of

Sebelius began Wednesday’s testimony by acknowledging that “early access to has been a miserably frustrating experience for too many Americans.”

She also renewed a pledge made by Tavenner and White House officials that the site would be fully operational by Nov. 30th but noted it’s unlikely to be running at full capacity any sooner than that.

Sebelius acknowledged that the two weeks of end-to-end testing underwent were clearly inadequate, but disputed a claim by some Republican lawmakers that lead contractors on the project warned CMS that the lack of testing could prove disastrous.

Those claims were largely based on a Sept. 6 progress report from CGI Federal, the main vendor for the marketplace’s backend, which was provided to the House Oversight Committee and posted online late Tuesday.

The report noted that the period allotted for performance testing and other forms of testing was inadequate. Sebelius described that as contractors saying what they wanted, not what they needed.

“The contractors said we would have loved more testing time but ultimately we’re ready to go,” she said, adding “no one ever imagined the volume of issues and problems we’ve had and that we need to fix.”

CGI and QSSI testified last week that they did not recommend delaying the launch because they were only responsible for verifying that their own portions of the system were ready to run, not the end-to-end system, which was CMS’s responsibility.

Much of Wednesday’s hearing steered clear of’s technical problems and focused on a partisan dispute about whether the president’s health care reform plan had caused private insurers to cancel some plans. 

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.