The Senate Finance Committee Thursday will hear how HealthCare.gov, the website used to purchase insurance as part of the Affordable Care Act, is faring.
“Failures of the federal exchange have been well documented, and policyholders and taxpayers deserve to know the system is working as intended and secure against abuses,” Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said in a news release. “This hearing will allow committee members to examine existing problems and explore options for how they can be corrected.”
A list of witnesses attending Thursday's meeting has yet to be released. But among the experts involved in the future of the website is Andy Slavitt, President Barack Obama's recent nominee to head the CMS. The CMS is the federal agency under HHS which runs HealthCare.gov.
Slavitt previously worked as group executive vice president of Optum, a unit of UnitedHealth Group. He was one of the executives helping with the so-called tech surge to fix HealthCare.gov in the months after it launched.
That history led Hatch to immediately issue a statement after the announcement of Slavitt's nomination, saying Slavitt's confirmation hearing would involve “tough questions regarding his former employer and their relationship with the agency.”
The CMS launched the healthcare exchanges, and the website HealthCare.gov in 2014. Since then, more than 11 million people have enrolled, according to the last figures. But it wasn't easy to get to that number. The website's launch was plagued with problems that caused enrollees to spend hours on the application process, when they could log on.
Optum was called into duty after having worked as a contractor for other portions of the marketplace—such as the “Data Services Hub,” which handles some of the back-end queries of federal databases, and the EIDM, the tool responsible for the initial sign-in data for users.
The second enrollment period earlier this year resulted in fewer malfunctions attributed to HealthCare.gov.
The CMS has praised its capacity to handle more simultaneous users and its response time to user requests. But the Government Accountability Office released a report in March, that said HealthCare.gov had issues that need to be addressed to ensure long-term functionality.
The GAO said the website and its supporting systems needed stronger oversight from its chief information officer.
The report also urged HHS to document and approve systems testing policy and procedures. Officials responded by saying work was underway to address those suggestions.
Other concerns about the website involve the security of personal information taken to complete the applications. Since the website's launch, the healthcare industry has been hit with several, widespread data breaches that underscores the value of the information obtained and stored by these agencies.
Just last week, the GAO released a report unrelated to HealthCare.gov that stressed the importance of cybersecurity for federal information systems.
The HHS' Office of Inspector General recently released its own report (PDF) stating the CMS lacks a way to reconcile payments to insurers to cover subsidies under the ACA.
But any IT challenges facing HealthCare.gov will no longer be Optum's responsibility. The company walked away from its role overseeing the performance of HealthCare.gov in May. A CMS official said the current contract ends July 31.