In June 2012, QSSI was awarded the contract (PDF) for “enterprise identity management,” which involves managing personal accounts on the exchange. But that so-called enterprise identity management system has not worked very well since the website opened for business Oct. 1.
“The identity management system from QSSI, which also taps into government databases to retrieve users' personal information, was a particular source of trouble when the exchange opened,” according to the Times story. “Change orders show that on Oct. 4—after millions of people had been trapped in technological loops trying merely to log in—the government asked CGI to help it devise a new identity management system to replace the one provided by QSSI. But specialists said that approach was abandoned as too risky. Ultimately, it was decided to fix the current identity system.”
QSSI disagrees that its contributions to the federal exchange haven't worked well. “The Data Services Hub continues to perform well, and while the entire federal marketplace was overwhelmed by consumer interest at launch, the enterprise identity management part of the registration system is successfully handling current volumes.”
There is plenty of blame to go around for the botched rollout. The federal marketplace, which will serve individuals in the 36 states that chose not to set up their own exchanges, has been marred by dysfunction. Many individuals trying to shop for insurance have been greeted by error messages and system failures.
On Sunday, the federal government announced that nearly 500,000 people had filled out applications through the insurance exchanges. But roughly half of those were through the 14 state-run websites that have generally functioned more effectively, and no data have been released on how many individuals actually have enrolled.
Since 2007, QSSI has received $368.6 million in contracts from DHS, according to a federal database. An inquiry to the CMS about how much money was awarded to QSSI for identity management services was not immediately returned. But the federal database shows five contracts for “enterprise identity management services” in 2012 and 2013. Those contracts total more than $50 million.
According to a database put together by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan watchdog group, QSSI has received $68.3 million to work on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That's behind only CGI Federal and Serco, which is tasked with processing insurance applications on the exchange. In 2011 and 2012, QSSI spent $6.4 million on lobbying and made $3.6 million in political contributions, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
Stanley Nachimson, a consultant on healthcare claims technology, said that regardless of which firms are at fault for the problems, the underlying cause is the same. “The real issue with the system appears to be that there wasn't a lot of testing for the site to see how it operated, not only under normal or expected loads, but under heavy loads,” Nachimson said.
Questions are increasingly being raised about how long the problems can persist without undermining the overall success of the healthcare reform law. “Quite honestly, the system needed to function well on its first day,” Nachimson said. “Folks understand occasional glitches, but the system was not ready to go live on Oct. 1.”