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Learning the root of the Obamacare problems

On Thursday, government contractors testify at the first congressional hearing about
/ Source: MSNBC TV

On Thursday, government contractors testify at the first congressional hearing about


Finally, (some) answers why suffered such a botched roll out straight from the developers who designed the site.

Today Government contractors are testifying at the first congressional hearing on the Obamacare online exchanges that debuted October 1.

Andrew Slavitt, Group Executive Vice President for Optum/QSSI, a firm that designed the process to verify the applicant's income and personal data, told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the site, "was inundated by many more consumers than anticipated.  Many of the critical components developed by these multiple vendors were overwhelmed."

Slavitt also testified one major cause of the system overload was the decision, made late in the development process, requiring users to register before browsing the site.  "This may have driven higher simultaneous usage of the registration system that wouldn't have otherwise occurred if consumers could 'window shop' anonymously."

Late design changes and the massive scope of the project left little time for key integration tests that the government, not private developers, conducted.  The AP reports that software companies traditionally run these test. Regardless, Cheryl Campbell, the Senior Vice President for CGI Federal, the site's largest contractor told the committee that the CGI system passed its tests before the site went live and felt the system was ready to go on October 1.

But Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) puts the blame squarely on Pres. Obama for delaying key implementation steps until after he won re-election.  "It was a political decision,"  Upton says.  "And that delay cost everything."

The White House is now delaying the individual mandate by pushing the enrollment deadline from February 15 to March 31. To avoid tax penalties, you must have started the process by the end of March. 

On the Senate side, some Democrats are encouraging Pres. Obama to delay signup deadlines until after the site is fixed.  Sen. Jeanne Shaheen proposed a resolution that is gaining support but comes with risks. "She wants to extend the open enrollment period a month, two months, so that those young people do have a chance to enroll once the website is working properly," Cycle co-host Krystal Ball explained on Wednesday's show.  "The reason we have the open enrollment period," Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle added, "is so people won't stay out of the market and just buy insurance when they get sick... The other issue is the mandate under the law says that you have to have insurance for more than 9 months of the year in order to escape paying mandate penalty. If you end open-enrollment that's fine for the people managing to get insurance, but you could be in a situation where a lot of young healthy people buy insurance and they also have to pay the mandate penalty." 

Aides say Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is now drafting a bill to delay the law's individual mandate for a year.  Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) is taking those calls even further, suggesting a mandate delay until the GAO certifies the website's functionality.

Back in the House, additional GOP-led committees have scheduled inquiries into the troubled rollout.  The Ways and Means Committee holds its hearing Tuesday. The Oversight and Government Reform Committee also has hearing plans in the works.

As for the Energy and Commerce Committee, they will reconvene next Wednesday with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the hot seat.