Who’s to Blame for Healthcare.gov Woes? New Info Sheds Light


No one is disputing the fact that the rollout of HealthCare.gov has been rife with problems, but the discussion of who’s to blame has been much more complicated. However, the Washington Post outlines in a recent article that CGI Federal — the main company tasked with building the online federal health insurance marketplace — had become the subject of increased concern by federal officials in the weeks leading up to the site going live, displaying countless warning signs of incompetence and, perhaps, dishonesty.

While CGI Federal employees continued to express confidence in the website’s ability to function by the October 1 opening, internal documents obtained by the Post show that any such confidence was not backed up by data. According to a final “pre-flight checklist” compiled only a week before the launch of HealthCare.gov by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, a shocking forty-one of ninety-one separate functions were still not working by the time of launch — all of which CGI had been responsible for finishing prior to the launch.

Additionally, a spreadsheet overseen by the the Post – dated on the day of the launch no less — cited thirty defective features of the website that had been scheduled to have been working. And five of those thirty defects were labeled as “critical,” including one issue that would cause users to receive an incorrect message that their applications were incomplete when signing back in following the creation of an application.

In fact, CGI’s high confidence in the weeks leading up to the site’s launch appears to have either been completely dishonest or a reflection of the incompetence of CGI employees — or likely a combination of the two. Of the forty-five items that CGI had expressed high confidence in completing in late August, most were not ready by October 1, according to the the Post. A government official familiar with the project told the publication that, while CGI often delivered components on time, they often contained faulty code that would fail upon closer scrutiny or increased Web traffic.

For a company that certainly has a lot of explaining to do, CGI is keeping quiet. The company has declined comment to the Post on two separate occasions over the past week and, instead, a CGI spokesman has referred to a statement made by the company’s president and chief executive, Michael E. Roach, made earlier this month: “As is our practice, we honor our confidentiality agreements with customers and, accordingly, we do not discuss individual contracts on analyst calls or any public forum.”

The government’s contract with CGI was $197 million as of August, according to the Post.

While there is no shortage of reasons that the launch of HealthCare.gov has been “disastrous,” as White House officials have acknowledged, there’s no doubt that CGI is looking more and more like the main culprit in the site’s problems. And with the Obama administration’s upcoming November 30 deadline calling for 80 percent of HealthCare.gov users to be able access the site smoothly, a government official told the Post that CGI’s work is still coming in flawed as the deadline approaches — according to the official, one-third to half of the code is unable to be used because it does not hold up under outside testing.

The Post also points to a series of emails made public by House committees and led by Republican opponents to the law. In an email on July 8, CMS technology adviser Jeffrey Grant told two colleagues that “our entire build is in jeopardy” because CGI had less employees working on the project than he had been told. Henry Chao, CMS’s deputy information officer later asked CGI employees to refute Jeff’s claims, writing in another email, “We are in bad shape.”

The exchange led to a meeting in which ninety-five elements were evaluated by CGI, with employees expressing high confidence in forty-five of them. According to The Post, sixteen of the “high” ratings were for SHOP — the portion of the exchange responsible for selling health plans to small businesses. But SHOP was found to be in such disrepair upon launch that the function is still unavailable on HealthCare.gov.

Cheryl Campbell, CGI’s senior vice president in charge of the project, maintained in an October 24 appearance in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that CGI had delivered on its contract. “CGI Federal delivered the functionality required by CMS to enable qualified individuals to begin enrolling in coverage when initial enrollment began on October 1,” she told the committee.

However, the recent reports are likely to place further scrutiny on CGI as officials look to assign blame for the HealthCare.gov fiasco.

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