U.S. passes up firms' offers to help healthcare website: committee

WASHINGTON Tue Oct 29, 2013 6:30pm EDT

A man looks over the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this October 2, 2013 photo illustration. REUTERS/Mike Segar

A man looks over the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this October 2, 2013 photo illustration.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

Related Topics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration appears to have passed up offers from Amazon and Microsoft to help fix the federal government's troubled healthcare enrollment website, according to documents released on Tuesday by a Republican-led congressional investigating committee.

An October 7 inquiry from Amazon's subsidiary Amazon Web Services Inc. was turned down by two senior officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, which is overseeing implementation of President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law, according to copies of emails provided by the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Microsoft also contacted HHS and the White House with offers of "technical expertise and assistance," but the company has not provided any such services, a Microsoft representative said in an October 25 letter to the committee. The letter did not say whether the administration had responded to Microsoft's offers.

Representative Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the committee and a dogged critic of the Obama administration, last week wrote to eight technology companies asking whether they had been involved in what the administration had called a "tech surge" aimed at fixing the website, Healthcare.gov.

The oversight committee released some of the companies' responses.

Republicans have long been opposed to the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as "Obamacare," and have started their own congressional probe into the role of the White House in the October 1 rollout of the website. It is a critical tool of the reforms, meant to help the uninsured get medical coverage, but it has been riddled with snags.

The Obama administration said earlier this month it was bringing in high-tech experts to sort out the website, but it has given few details of who may be involved, other than to announce last week that Quality Software Services Inc, or QSSI, will serve as a general contractor to oversee repairs.

"We wrote to these companies because the administration said there was a tech surge underway but was hazy on the details," said Caitlin Carroll, an Issa spokeswoman.

The responses "raise even more questions about who at HHS is doing what to solve the problems" with the website, she said. There was no immediate comment from HHS.

Issa has subpoenaed QSSI, which is a unit of health insurer UnitedHealth Group and also has a technology contract related to the website, for documents related to the project.

"SOME CHALLENGES"

An Amazon representative wrote to the committee on October 28 to describe the company's contacts with the administration about the website.

Amazon sent the panel copies of emails, showing an employee of Amazon Web Services Inc (AWS) emailed two HHS officials on October 7 saying, "I hear there are some challenges with Healthcare.gov. Is there anything we can do to help?"

HHS' Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak replied to Amazon by email on October 8: "I wish there was. I actually wish there was something I could do to help."

HHS' Chief Information Officer Frank Baitman replied to Amazon on October 7, "Thanks for the offer! Unfortunately, as you know, I haven't been involved with Healthcare.gov. I'm still trying to figure out how I can help, and may very well reach out for assistance should the opportunity present itself."

Issa has written to Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Verizon Enterprise Solutions, Oracle, Expedia, Apple, and Kayak, Carroll said.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Paul Simao)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (3)
unionwv wrote:
Obama’s administrative agenda does not include serious consideration of offers to help by competent people and institutions. Wretched ideology, uber alles.

Oct 29, 2013 7:17pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
unionwv wrote:
Obama’s administrative agenda does not include serious consideration of offers to help by competent people and institutions. Wretched ideology, uber alles.

Oct 29, 2013 7:17pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
sylvan wrote:
The only reason Sebelius and Tavenner are being blamed for the failure of government contractors is because they are women. Hagel was never blamed for the failure of the outside contractors for security clearance for Ed Snowden or Navy Yard shooting, both exponentially larger and more costly failures. Pentagon chief is never blamed when massively expensive weapons systems fail, but HHS and CMM cheifs are publicly excoriated by old gray bigots unchallenged? Why do so called respectable papers allow this bigoted dichotomy to go unchallenged? Shame on all the papers who have repeated the misogynic meme and refused to point out the differences in respect afforded women in government. GOP is misogynic gray bigots and women are watching these vent their bile at these two women who had very little control of the project. Keep it up old nasty men, we will remember….just ask Coochi.

Oct 30, 2013 5:40am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.