Healthcare contractors point finger at Obama administration
One contractor said many of the bottlenecks could be attributed to a late decision on the structure of the site
Contractors who worked on the much-maligned US healthcare website have told lawmakers the Obama administration must share the blame for its glitches.
One senior executive said in testimony to a congressional panel that the federal government was "the ultimate responsible party".
The panel also heard two contractors had wanted further testing before the 1 October launch of the website.
The Obama administration is in damage-control mode over the troubled rollout.
The fallout led the White House late on Wednesday to announce that it would push back by six weeks the healthcare law's requirement for individuals to buy insurance or face a tax penalty.No 'clean hands'
Thursday's testimony before the House energy and commerce committee began with Republican legislators arguing that the healthcare.gov website flaws were part of wider problems in the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which is commonly known as Obamacare.
"The American people deserve something that works, or start over," Representative Tim Murphy said, suggesting that the law be suspended until the problems are fixed.
The website is one part of the larger law, which includes increased requirements for insurance firms, a tax penalty for not buying coverage and subsidies for those who qualify for the cost of the insurance.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office previously said about seven million people would gain coverage through the exchanges during the first year of operation.
Democrats have lamented the technical issues but defended the law, while criticising Republican attempts to undermine it.
"Republicans don't have clean hands coming here," Democratic Representative Frank Pallone said.
The website's glitches were overshadowed by a 16-day government shutdown, which began after Republicans tried to gut the law through budgetary brinkmanship in Congress.
On Thursday, Cheryl Campbell, a senior vice-president of the Canadian-firm CGI, which created the front-end portion of the website, said that overwhelming interest from consumers had triggered the website problems.
"No amount of testing within reasonable time limits can adequately replicate a live environment of this nature" Ms Campbell said.
But she also blamed administration officials, saying the health department should have served as the "quarterback" on the project and was the "ultimate responsible party for the end-to-end performance".
Andy Slavitt of QSSI, which created several elements of the online healthcare exchange, said a late decision to require consumers to create accounts before they could browse potential coverage plans contributed to the slow, malfunctioning website.
"This may have driven higher simultaneous usage of the registration system that wouldn't have occurred if consumers could window-shop anonymously," Mr Slavitt said.
Republican Representative Joe Pitts questioned this decision, pointing out that "window-shopping" was widely used in e-commerce, including in another government healthcare website for the elderly.
"Who made that decision? When was it made? Why was it made?" Mr Pitts asked during the hearing.
Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius travelled to an Arizona health centre on Thursday in support of the law. Republicans in Congress have called for her resignation over the website problems.
Ms Sebelius and other government officials are set to testify in front of legislators in a hearing next week.
She was ridiculed earlier this month during an appearance on The Daily Show when the host Jon Stewart pulled out a laptop and said: "I'm going try and download every movie ever made, and you're going to try and sign up for Obamacare and we'll see which happens first."
In response to the outcry over the technical issues, the administration will begin daily status briefings on the system, starting on Thursday.
On Wednesday, US health officials admitted the online system did not get enough testing before going live on 1 October, especially at higher volumes.
The health law also allowed individual states to set up their own online insurance exchanges.
Fourteen states and the District of Columbia went with this option - those websites have not reported so many problems.