update: Contractors, insurers discuss exchange problems

Two contractors played the blame game yesterday in testimony to a congressional committee, Reuters reported.

CGI Federal blamed the first set of problems with consumers trying to create secure accounts on another contractor's software. It also named the federal government as ultimately responsible for the website's implementation.

"CMS serves the important role of systems integrator or 'quarterback' on this project and is the ultimate responsible party for the end-to-end performance," CGI Senior Vice President Cheryl Campbell said in testimony submitted to the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.

The other contractor, Quality Software Services (QSSI), told the committee that the unexpected consumer demand overwhelmed its registration and access management tool. The problem also involved a late decision requiring consumers to register for an account before they could browse coverage options.

"This may have driven higher simultaneous usage of the registration system that wouldn't have occurred if consumers could 'window shop' anonymously," Andrew Slavitt, executive vice president of QSSI's parent, UnitedHealth Group unit Optum, said in his testimony.

This morning's committee hearing marks one of at least three congressional panels investigating the problematic

Moreover, the White House yesterday hosted a group of health insurance executives to discuss the exchange website, according to The Washington Post's Wonk Blog. The meeting included Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, Human CEO Bruce Broussard, CareFirst CEO Chet Burrell and Health Net CEO Jay Gellert.

Speaking about the meeting, the White House said it's working with "alpha teams" made up of technology experts from insurers and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to fix bugs with 834 forms and direct enrollment, the Wonk Blog noted.

Meanwhile, CBS News found the Obama administration's damage control efforts have created a pricing problem with A newly added "shop and browse" feature can dramatically underestimate prices and mislead consumers about how much they should expect to pay for insurance.

And with all the technological problems preventing people from signing up for exchange plans, the Obama administration is adjusting the individual mandate and shifting the "need-to-be-insured" deadline from March 31 to late April or May, FierceHealthPayer reported. Doing so will account for the time lag in processing applications and allow consumers who apply before open enrollment ends March 31 to avoid a tax penalty.

To learn more:
- read the Reuters articles on contractors and damage control
- check out the testimonies from CGI and QSSI (.pdfs)
- here's the Wonk Blog post
- here's the CBS News article