There will be some "bumps" in Obamacare enrollment this year: Official

Last Updated Aug 1, 2014 12:00 PM EDT

WASHINGTON -- A top official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) told House members Thursday that there will likely be more "bumps" next year in enrollment in the federal health exchange set up under Obamacare.

"It won't be perfect," said Andrew Slavitt, who was recently appointed to join CMS - the Health and Human Services agency that administers Obamacare - as its principal deputy administrator. "I think we've got a committed team of people, though, that by and large are doing a very good job. But there will clearly be bumps."

Slavitt said that this year's enrollment in the federal exchange, though, will be a "vastly different situation" from last year's problem-ridden launch of the exchange's website, HealthCare.gov. Slavitt also pointed to early data out of states like Delaware and Washington, where premium increases were not as large as Obamacare opponents expected, saying that CMS is seeing "historically low growth" in health care spending.

The testimony came just a day after a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review found that HealthCare.gov has already cost $840 million to build and fix. The report not only found over $200 million in cost increases from September 2011 to February of this year, but it also showed that a government contract with Accenture, a consulting firm hired in January to fix the website, was granted for $91 million but increased in cost to $175 million by July.

Slavitt made it clear this was not a cost overrun, however. Accenture agreed to an initial amount of money in an "urgent situation" with the understanding that more money may be necessary, hence the increase.

Slavitt explained the Accenture contract increase wasn't a case of "ballooning" costs. "I would say the proper scope was determined after they got going," he said.

Accenture spokesman Jim McAvoy told CBS News, "Accenture is delivering all of our work for CMS on-time and on-budget."

But Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Oversight subcommittee, which held the hearing, expressed concern about the money spent on HealthCare.gov.

"The agency continues to ignore recommendations and continues to pump money into what may be a futile effort," said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, who added, "We have very little to show for our money."

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., pointed to the fact that several undercover investigators were able to set up fake identities and get Obamacare subsidies recently, saying, "I don't understand why my colleagues across the aisle continue to defend this thing."

Democrats on the committee, though, complained that Republicans were focusing too much on past issues rather than figuring out how to improve the handling of HealthCare.gov in the future. They pointed to recent drops in the uninsured rate, calling the Affordable Care Act a "historic success."

"We have unequivocal proof that health care reform is a success," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. "Let's go forward trying to make things better, not dwelling on what was wrong."

Slavitt told the committee that the CMS was improving its software systems and had taken steps to overcome management and planning problems in the organization.

But William Woods, a high-up official at the GAO who testified in front of the committee following Slavitt's remarks, said CMS needed to further examine the past cost increases of HealthCare.gov.

"Our bottom line assessment is simple yet sober," Woods said. "CMS began and undertook the development of the HealthCare.gov system without adequate planning."

Woods said there had been "inconsistent and sometimes absent oversight" at CMS, saying around 40 changes were made to contracts by people who were not supposed to have such authority. He added that even more than $840 million has likely been spent on the website, since that figure was calculated in March.

"Obviously the spending has continued," he said.

In the GAO report, the agency made several recommendations to improve the management of HealthCare.gov, calling for a formalization of guidelines for contract managers and steps to address cost overruns. Slavitt said he agreed with the recommendations.

Editor's note: This story was updated to more accurately characterize Accenture's contract to fix HealthCare.gov.

  • abigail bessler

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