UPDATE 4-Contractors describe scant pre-launch testing of U.S. healthcare site

Thu Oct 24, 2013 7:46pm EDT
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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 time frame 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."

She also told reporters that in-house "business decisions" prompted CMS to require online visitors to create accounts before shopping for health plans and prompted the agency to assume the key role of system integrator for Healthcare.gov.

The glitches, delays and errors that have characterized the website 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."   Continued...