Contractors Describe Patchwork of Efforts But Blame CMS for Bad Site Rollout
“Either these officials were shockingly unaware of what was happening...or deliberately misleading our committee and the public," Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) said.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) grilled Campbell on hidden language in the website’s source code, pointing out a line that reads, “You have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding any communication or data transiting or stored on this information system.” Barton asked how that language could be compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. That law establishes national standards around sharing personal health information.
Campbell said she was aware of the language but it was CMS’s decision to include it.
“It may be their decision to hide it, but you're the company that put this together. You're telling every American, if you sign up with this or even attempt to, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy. That is a direct contradiction to HIPAA, and you know it,” Barton said.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J) retorted that HIPPA only applies when there is health information being provided.
“No health information is required in the application process. And why is that? Because pre-existing conditions don’t matter! So once again, here we have my Republican colleagues trying to scare everybody,” he said.
Pallone’s sentiment was echoed by many Democrats who defended the law.
“The Affordable Care Act is an enormous success with one obvious exception – it has a poorly designed website,” Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said. “My Republican colleagues have been predicting that healthcare reform would be a disaster for three years now, and every time they've been wrong.”
They accused Republicans of trying to sabotage the ACA by voting more than 40 times to repeal the law, encouraging governors to obstruct implementation, and shutting down the government. They also noted that Medicare Part D had similar problems when it started, but Democrats joined their Republican colleagues to solve the issues.
“Let's not forget what a mess it was and the significant problems seniors had with registering for the new benefits. But I also want to remind my colleagues on both sides of the aisle that the difficulties passed and were soon forgotten amid the success of Part D,” Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said.
As the hearing grew more contentious, however, decorum broke down when Pallone referred to the hearing as a “monkey court” and “another cynical effort to repeal the ACA.”
“Republicans don't have clean hands coming here. Their effort, obviously, isn't to make this better, but to use the website and the glitches as an excuse to defund or repeal Obamacare,” he said.
“A lot of people don't want the Affordable Care Act to work and they're raising all of these specters,” DeGette said. “And this privacy issue is a specter.”
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) asked the witnesses whether the system was tested before launch. Campbell said each company working on a component of the system and independent contractors did their own separate testing. She said CGI’s tests concluded the website worked properly, but did not work when it became part of the integrated system.
“Well, you knew it was going to be integrated. There are many subcontractors. That wasn't a surprise,” she said. “Taxpayers have paid you a lot of money and you're essentially saying to us everything is all right when it's not.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will testify in front of the committee next week. HHS said she was unable to make the hearing today because of a “scheduling conflict.”
An Obama administration official, however, told Fox News that Sebelius planned to visit an ACA call center in Phoenix to meet with community leaders on outreach to those currently uninsured.