WASHINGTON — A key federal official said the payment and accounting functions of the HealthCare.gov website have yet to be built.
Henry Chao, the deputy chief information officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, indicated that the non-customer features of the beleaguered site need to be constructed. “We still have to build the payment systems to make payments to issuers in January,” he told members of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee Tuesday.
Chao’s answer came in response to questions from Rep. Cory Gardner.
“Well, how much do we have to build today still? What do we need to build? 50 percent? 40 percent? 30 percent,” the Yuma Republican asked.
“Just an approximation, we’re probably sitting somewhere between 60-70 percent because we still have to build the system,” Chao said.
Although media outlets have reported that Chao indicated 40 percent of the site remains unfinished, Gardner asked follow-up questions about the percentage without receiving a direct response. A Gardner spokesman did return an email message, while Chao was unavailable for comment.
Chao’s statement that the payment and accounting systems of the site are not working is the latest admission by federal officials that the site is not functioning properly.
On Nov. 6, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a Senate committee that the launch of the site has been “excruciatingly awful.” On Nov. 14, Obama said the malfunctioning website have “prevented too many Americans from completing the enrollment process, and that’s on us, not them.”
Fixing the site has been a priority of Obama administration and Democratic officials. Jeffrey Zients, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget and a CEO and management, was named the unofficial czar of fixing healthcare.gov. He announced he would leave the post to become chairman of the National Economic Council in January.
At the subcommittee hearing, Chao said parts of the healthcaregov site are working “one-hundred percent.” He referred to those that process online applications, determine eligibility, verification, compare plans, enrollments, and enrollment transfers.
The security of the site was the original focus of the subcommittee hearing. Republican members noted that hackers could access the site. “The site screams, ‘If you like my health-care information, you may steal it,” Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) said.
Leading Democrats conceded the point, but noted no hackers have infiltrated the site yet.
In addition, Democrats criticized Republicans for not acknowledging the virtues of the 2010 health-care law.
“We should begin by acknowledging that the Affordable Care Act represents an enormous step forward for privacy, because when people apply for insurance coverage, the law bans them from being asked questions about the underwriting, about their medical conditions, about the privacy of things that that affect their health,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said.
A government security contractor acknowledged that hackers may attack the site, but said the site was no different than those of Facebook or any banking website. “It’s probably going to happen at some point, but we can minimize the damage,” David Amsler, president and CEO of Foreground Security Inc., told the committee.