CORRECTED-UPDATE 3-Contractors describe scant pre-launch testing of US healthcare site

Thu Oct 24, 2013 7:14pm EDT
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(Corrects company background in third last paragraph to make clear CGI Federal is a unit of Canada's CGI Group Inc, not Celadon Group, as earlier sent)

By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON Oct 24 (Reuters) - The Obama administration launched its troubled healthcare insurance website after only a minimum of crucial system-wide testing, despite contractors warning officials repeatedly about performance risks, a congressional panel heard on Thursday.

Witnesses said the administration did not conduct end-to-end testing of the system's technology backbone until just the two weeks before one of the lynchpins of President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare policy opened to consumers on Oct. 1.

At a U.S. House of Representatives oversight committee hearing, contractors also blamed the administration for a last-minute design change that has been identified as a flaw responsible for leading millions of visitors into system bottlenecks.

Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency implementing the online marketplace, acknowledged the contractors' testimony.

"Due to a compressed timeframe the system wasn't tested enough," Bataille said. "What's important to realize is that we are putting in place a much more robust performance testing system now."

The glitches, delays and errors that have characterized are a growing concern for Republicans and Democrats alike. The administration is racing to solve the problems in time for millions of uninsured Americans to enroll for coverage and begin receiving health benefits from Jan. 1, as stipulated by the 2010 Affordable Care Act, commonly called "Obamacare."

CMS said on Thursday that about 700,000 applications have been submitted so far for U.S. healthcare coverage through the exchanges.   Continued...