The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

This Is Another Nice Mess You've Gotten Us Into

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


The New York Times had an interesting story yesterday, which also raised some questions that need to be answered.

According to the Times, the delays for signing up for insurance on the healthcare exchange are directly tied to a software crash when Obamacare officially opened on October 1.  The problem occurred at the very beginning stage of accessing the website www.healthcare.gov.  Federal and state-run exchanges require individuals to set up an account BEFORE one can even peruse what choices are available for health insurance and what the prices are.

I can personally attest to this because I attempted to find out what choices might be available for me.  I have tried to log onto my state website since day one.  Five days after Oct 1, I thought I created an account but when I try to log in with my user name and password, I am rejected.  I was told to expect an email confirming my account but I have not received that as of today.

Meanwhile, I am wondering where all my personal information is and who may have access to it.  I am reminded of John McAfee’s comment from last week when he said the online system is, “a hacker's wet dream.”  John McAfee of course is the creator of McAfee security systems for computer software.

While Todd Park, the chief technology officer for the Obama Administration, has said the contractors are working 24-7 to fix the problems, many people who established an account before Oct. 1 are now finding they can no longer log in either, never mind those that tried to get an account on opening day.  Plus, because of the computer’s initial problems, other parts of the system haven’t been tested under real-world conditions.  According to the Times, “outside experts said that White House officials should have spent more time tending to the computer code and technology of the Web site, rather than recruiting Hollywood celebrities to promote it.”

The Times interviewed Luke Chung, the president of a Virginia database company that has been openly critical of the Obamacare site for several days.  He said, “It’s poorly designed…People higher up are given the excuse that there are too many users. That’s a convenient excuse for the managers to pass up the chain.”

The Times also interviewed Aneesh Chopra who was the federal government’s first chief technology officer and helped create an earlier version of Healthcare.gov before he left.  He felt that the current system would be working well in a couple of weeks.  Chopra said that when United Airlines and Continental merged their online reservations systems, it took several weeks to fix the problems.  He noted that large scale I.T. projects always have problems and none are ever “bug-free.”

It’s interesting Mr. Chopra left his position of Chief Technology Officer in 2012 and ran in the Virginia Democrat primary for Lieutenant Governor this year.  Maybe he figured running for office was an easier lift then getting Obamacare up and running. (He lost the race.)

The Times reported that Administration officials have stated they rely on two contractors to get Obamacare federal exchanges up and running.  The contractors are under the supervision of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The prime contractor for the federal exchange is CGI Federal, a unit of the CGI Group and is based in Montreal.  The company operating the “data services hub” is Quality Software Services Inc.(QSSI), which happens to be a unit of the UnitedHealth Group, a major health insurance company.  The hub allows exchanges to get information about a person’s income and citizenship from the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies.

So this begs the question: why is a major health insurance company putting together the data hub for all of Obamacare when it is participating in the exchanges with other health insurance companies.  Isn’t this anti-competitive?

This relationship certainly caught the eyes of several members of Congress according to a column written by Mary Katherine Ham in the December 11, 2012 Hot Air but obviously things have gone forward in spite of the questionable relationship.  In addition, Ham points how former-Director Steve Larsen of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, the agency that wrote the rules on how the federal exchange would operate, left the government to work for UnitedHealth Group.  Talk about crony capitalism!

The Times points out that the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, wrote in a June 2013 an investigative report that CGI had received $88 million for work on the federal exchange and Quality Software Services received $55 million for work on the data hub.

Even though the government is partially shutdown, contract engineers are still on duty and are trying to fix the many problems with the HealthCare.gov website according to the Times.  But others are not working.  For example, account managers that have been assigned to work with and support insurers participating in the exchange, or lawyers who have to give final reviews on support manuals, have been furloughed.

While the New York Times certainly provides some insight into the first week of Obamacare, there still is very little information provided such as how many people have signed up for an Obamacare policy or what the prices of the policies are.

But the information is trickling out and so far, it doesn’t sound good.  Avik Roy, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, has a blog entitled The Apothecary.  He has created a map that is continually updated on how much Obamacare is costing individuals across the country.

Let’s face it.  If the news on Obamacare was wonderful, President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would be shouting it from the tops of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, even though they are “shutdown.”

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