Journalism in the Public Interest

Today’s Obamacare Hearing: What You Need To Know

A House committee focuses on what went wrong with the rollout and why. Here’s the backstory.


(Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce committee held the first of what is likely to be many hearings on how the rollout of went so wrong. Today, the House Ways and Means Committee takes its turn with scheduled testimony from Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs

Here’s what you need to know:

1 Watch the hearing here:

Live streaming video by Ustream

2 Read the committee’s background.

3 Look at Tavenner’s testimony from August before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. At the time, she said, “CMS has already completed the majority of the development of the services required to support open enrollment beginning on October 1, 2013, for coverage starting January 1, 2014. CMS has been conducting systems tests since October 2012 and will complete end-to-end testing before open enrollment begins.”

How will she respond to questions about that now?

4 See media previews of today’s hearing.

Sarah Kliff at Wonkblog writes:

Marilyn Tavenner is head of a $1 trillion-a-year agency that provides Medicare and Medicaid coverage to 90 million Americans — and is overseeing the implementation of President Obama’s health-care law.

As recently as late September, she predicted that the Affordable Care Act would have a smooth launch on Oct. 1.

“I talked to Marilyn a lot before the rollout, and I think she was surprised by how it’s gone,” said Thomas Scully, a Medicare administrator under President George W. Bush and a longtime colleague of Tavenner’s. “She seemed pretty confident it would work.”

On Tuesday, Tavenner will be the first Obama administration official to testify before Congress about the efforts of her agency — the Centers for Medicare and Medcaid Services — to implement the 2010 law. The agency recently hired contractor Quality Software Services Inc. to be the general manager for the effort to fix the troubled Web site.

Paige Winfield Cunningham and Jennifer Haberkorn at Politico write:

Eight pages of prepared testimony by CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner shed no new light on what went wrong with or on the internal decision-making surrounding its construction, but rather her testimony restates the administration’s plans for fixing it.

Tavenner is scheduled to testify Tuesday before the House Ways and Means Committee about the website launch. According to a copy of her testimony obtained by POLITICO, a “subset” of contractors that built the website haven’t met expectations.

To address the website’s ongoing challenges, the agency has updated it several times with new code including bug fixes. It’s also adding more capacity, fixing signup and log-in problems, and trying to “stabilize” those parts of the website, allowing for the removal of the virtual “waiting room,” the testimony says.

And Sheryl Gay Stolberg at The New York Times writes:

Ten days before opened for business, Marilyn Tavenner, the obscure federal bureaucrat whose agency oversaw the creation of the troubled online insurance marketplace, had a bad omen. It was a Sunday, and her mobile device was on the fritz, forcing her to go into the office.

 “It reminded me that I can still be brought to my knees by a malfunctioning BlackBerry,” she joked in late September, recounting her technology woes to a group of insurance executives.

Nobody at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency Ms. Tavenner runs, is joking now.

I believe, as may some others, that the problems with the design of the website was due to the typical government way of doing things, like “Contracts”, awarded to the “Lowest Bidder”. Was that the case, or was it that the contract was let in some form of “Nepotism” or “Cronyism”? Or, could it have been a lesser-paid employee of the department itself? As of now, I don’t believe we know for sure. Will that come out in the investigations? Another unknown?

Dave: As I’ve read and understand, CGI was awarded the no-bid contract. Toni Townes-Whitley, worked alongside her classmate Michelle Obama in multiple Princeton University student groups, became senior vice president of CGI Federal in May 2010. CGI also is “managing” several billions of dollars re: Hurricane Sandy relief.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Obamacare and You

Obamacare and You

The Rollout of the Affordable Care Act has been marred by glitches and political opposition.

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