U.S. technology contractors are blaming health care officials in the administration of President Barack Obama for the widespread problems in the start-up of a new government Internet health insurance portal.
An official at one of the contractors, Andrew Slavitt of QSSI, told a congressional panel Thursday that his company shared its concerns with government officials about faults it saw in the development of the website before its October 1 opening. The government, however, opened the site as planned, only to leave millions of uninsured Americans staring at computers showing error messages and blocking them from looking at health care policies they could buy.
Slavitt said it was particularly troublesome that government officials made "a late decision" to force people looking to buy insurance to register personal financial information before they could browse for policies. Some critics say the government officials wanted potential customers to register first so they would not be shocked at the cost of buying insurance, some of them for the first time.
Another technology official, Cheryl Campbell of CGI Federal, said the online site was overwhelmed at the start by the millions of people trying to access the insurance portal. She said the web site was "not a standard consumer" portal that most people are accustomed to, making the enrollment process "difficult for too many Americans."
But Campbell, whose firm is the main contractor on the project, said the system should not be scrapped. She said the website is now performing better, and that it would be fixed so that those hoping to buy insurance will be able to do so by December 15, So policies can take effect on New Year's Day.
The hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee was highly politicized. Republicans opposed to the law, popularly known in the U.S. as Obamacare, called its launch a disaster.
The panel's chairman, Michigan congressman Fred Upton, accused government officials of withholding information about the website's failures.
"We still don't know the real picture. The administration appears allergic to transparency and continues to withhold enrollment figures."
Democrats on the committee said that many people are successfully buying insurance, but they, too, complained about the website problems.
Mr. Obama, who counts the law as his signature legislative achievement, said earlier this week that no one is more upset than he is about the shortcomings of the web site. He has called in key private and government technology experts to try to fix the health insurance portal.
The government official overseeing the start of the insurance system, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, is set to testify next week about the website failures and efforts to correct them.
Under the new law, people without private health insurance can sign up for government subsidized insurance. But those who choose not to buy any insurance will have to pay a fine.