Congress wants explanation for Obamacare site glitches

(CBS News) The online health insurance supermarkets created by Obamacare opened for business on Oct. 1, but a lot of folks are still having trouble getting through the door.

The website problems have been a major embarrassment for the administration, and have become ammunition for opponents of the Affordable Care Act.

Many applicants are still having problems when they try to log on to the website healthcare.gov.
Many applicants are still having problems when they try to log on to the website healthcare.gov.
CBS News

Here's where the problem lies: When applicants try to log on to the website healthcare.gov, they are asked to verify their identities before they can shop for health insurance. That proof-of-identity process has turned out to be an impassible roadblock for many users. Now Congress is investigating why.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is asking the administration and the website's private contractors if the problems are in their hardware systems or in the software. CGI Federal, the company that won an $88 million contract to be the prime architect of the website, has repeatedly assured Congress the site would be ready when Obamacare went into effect.

"CGI Federal is confident in its ability to deliver successfully on its contract," company Senior Vice President Cheryl Campbell declared last month.

CGI's parent company is based in Canada, but its U.S. subsidiary has hundreds of federal contracts for website construction, including the main page for Medicare.

The Medicare experience could be part of the problem. Government officials and contractors used the Medicare sign-up process to estimate how many people would simultaneously apply for Obamacare. They got that estimate wrong.

of Obamacare in the first two years, believes the contractor grossly underestimated the number of people who would use the site.
Aneesh Chopra, the former U.S. chief technology officer who helped plan the launch of Obamacare in the first two years, believes the contractor grossly underestimated the number of people who would use the site.
CBS News

"What I believe they had done is built in the capacity to support about 60,000 people at the exact same time. And what they actually got was over a quarter of a million people at the exact same time," said Aneesh Chopra, the former U.S. chief technology officer who helped plan the launch of Obamacare in the first two years after the Affordable Care Act was passed.

"I think there's going to be a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking about what we could do better, " Chopra said.

CGI would not comment for this story. The administration says the website is now working faster and signing up more people every day.

Still, more than two weeks into the sign-up period, it's clear the problem wasn't just a simple glitch, as the president had suggested. And it certainly wasn't the triumphant roll-out the White House envisioned for Obamacare.

  • Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.

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