Obamacare Designer Says U.S. Agency Is Site’s Quarterback

An executive of CGI Group Inc., a contractor criticized for flaws that have hobbled sign-up for health-care exchanges, said the U.S. government is the “ultimate responsible party” for the insurance marketplaces.

CGI “works under the direction and supervision” of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said Cheryl Campbell, a senior vice president at CGI Federal Inc., a unit of CGI Group based in Fairfax, Virginia. The testimony was posted today on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee website, which will hold a hearing tomorrow morning.

The agency, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, plays an “important role of systems integrator or ’quarterback’” and is responsible for “the end-to-end performance of the overall federal exchange,” Campbell said in her prepared testimony.

The website failures have made it difficult for people to enroll, marring its debut and giving critics ammunition to undercut the health-care law by detractors and supporters. The flaws may discourage young, healthy, web-savvy consumers whose participation is critical to offset the risk of insuring older, sicker people and to keep the program sustainable.

House Republicans are seizing on the technical defects as they push to delay implementation of the health-care plan, while Democrats are urging more time to overcome the woes. One Democrat, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, has called for delaying the deadline to sign up for coverage.

‘Be Fixed’

“It is premature to consider that,” Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer, the House’s No. 2 Democrat, said in an interview at the Capitol today. “We will see what happens in the next few weeks in terms of fixing the system. I think it’s going to be fixed.”

Hoyer and other House Democrats spoke after Shaheen asked President Barack Obama to extend the open enrollment beyond the March 31 deadline. Because some people were unable to enroll, more time is needed to allow consumers additional opportunities to access the site, she said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who was House speaker when the health law was passed in 2010, said she doesn’t support Shaheen’s request.

“We should try to fix what we have, move forward with the deadline,” Pelosi said at a briefing today with reporters. “While there are glitches, there are solutions as well.”

California Republican Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, today released letters to five companies asking for more information about their possible role with the White House or the Department of Health and Human Services to fix the flaws. The companies are Verizon Enterprise Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp. and Expedia Inc.

Information Sought

“Despite the president’s assertion that ‘we’re well into a tech surge,’ neither the White House nor HHS is providing additional details about which private-sector companies have been engaged or whether they are being engaged through the appropriate procurement processes,” Issa wrote.

Republicans faulted the website defects less than a week after resolving a partial government shutdown triggered by the party’s opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. House Republicans have been seeking to delay implementation of the Obama health-care law.

“The rollout of Obamacare is nothing short of a debacle,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia told reporters today in Washington.

‘This Way’

Tomorrow’s hearing is meant to determine whether breakdowns at www.healthcare.gov were caused by the contractors, or “were they told to do it this way” by the Department of Health and Human Services, Representative Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican, told reporters in Washington.

“We should press pause on the president’s tech surge where he wants to spend untold more amounts of money to throw that after a bad website when we don’t even know if this one is even salvageable,” said Murphy, chairman of the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce panel.

Four contractors will answer panel members’ questions about the website rollout. They are Quality Software Services Inc., owned by Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group Inc.; Equifax Workforce Solutions, a unit of Atlanta-based Equifax Inc.; a U.S. unit of Montreal-based CGI Group Inc.; and a U.S. unit of Serco Group Plc, a U.K. services provider.

Obama administration officials today briefed House Democrats on the status of the health-care law implementation.

Phone Enrollment

Representative Xavier Becerra, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said the White House officials outlined steps being taken to reduce errors on the website and “they’re moving forward with more access to phone coverage to give people access to that information.”

Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly said if people can’t access the website and sign up soon, he’d be open to delaying the penalties for not enrolling.

“ You can’t ask somebody to pay a penalty based on a certain time frame of availability if that time frame has been contracted through no fault of their own,” Connolly said in an interview.

Florida Democrat Joe Garcia said he would support any efforts to help the implementation of the health-care law.

“We are all upset that it’s not working as it should be, there’s no question about that,” Garcia told reporters in Washington today.