Hearings began today on the problems with the implementation of the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Healthcare Act or Obamacare. As expected the hearings have degenerated into partisan bickering between Republicans and Democrats instead of what caused the problems, who was responsible for the problems and why after so much money was spent on the Healthcare.gov website it doesn’t work.
We have no more information on these problems than when the hearings began. The republicans on the committee were mostly concerned with the security of the system and the privacy of the information entered into it by users. The democrats continually brought up how great Obamacare is, how many of their constituents will be or are being helped and that the republicans are trying to sabotage the system. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) even off handedly blamed George Bush. Each side had their share of stories about constituents who either have stories of success or failures using the system and on what exactly the hearings are supposed to be about.
Four contractors appeared today in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to try to explain what went wrong but so far have only succeeded in blaming others and pleading ignorance as to what the other contractors were doing. The four people who testified in front of the committee were, Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president with contractor CGI Federal, Andy Slavitt, representing contractor Optum/QSSI, John Lau Program Director of Serco and Lynne Spellecy, corporate counsel for Equifax Workforce Solutions. Each of these contractors is responsible for different segments of the final program.
Notably absent from the hearing was Kathleen Sebillius the Secretary of Health and Human Services whose department is ultimately responsible of Obamacare who said she had other commitments and couldn’t attend She is due to appear at a later date.
Each of the four said that there was no comprehensive testing done prior to the implementation of the website, each saying they had no access to the other sections of the site, other than those they were directly responsible. Slavitt did say there were some tests that had failed and said he tried to warn officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) about these problems however it was unclear on whether or not anyone listened. Campbell said this was the biggest project her customer ever done and that she would have like to have more time to test the site. She also stated that the system did crash during one test.
None of the members of the committee addressed the cost of the program or even when it will be fixed to the panel. One thing Campbell and Slavitt did tend to agree on however is that CMS was the leader of the operation and it is they who are mostly at fault. There was no one from CMS at these hearings.
And through all this, nothing has been resolved. There are still no answers as to when the system will be working for everyone, if the system is secure or why it cost so much to implement and is still not working. Two things were made clear in the hearings. First no one appears to have been in charge of the program, the testing or the implementation, instead in typical government fashion no one is responsible but everyone else is to blame. Second, there should have been more oversight from the beginning of the program by Congress. It isn’t important on who did or did not call for hearings before the program was implemented, what is important that none were held and we now have the disaster we are seeing.
We should all agree the program was not ready to be rolled out, no matter how one feels about whether Obamacare is needed or not.
Commentary by Paul Roy