Data center glitch is latest problem in 'Obamacare' rollout

Reuters

By David Morgan and Sharon Begley

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, Oct 27 (Reuters) - A data centercritical for allowing uninsured Americans to buy health coverageunder President Barack Obama's healthcare law went down onSunday, halting online enrollment for all 50 states in thelatest problem to hit the program's troubled rollout.

The data center operated by Verizon's Terremark experienced a connectivity issue that caused it to shut down,affecting the federal government's already problem-plaguedonline marketplace Healthcare.gov and similar sites operated by14 states and the District of Columbia, according to the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Obama administration and company officials could not say howlong it would take to fix the connectivity problem.

Separate technical problems that have stalled enrollment onHealthcare.gov since its launch on Oct. 1 are at the heart of anew Republican effort to discredit the healthcare law, alsoknown as Obamacare, largely through congressional investigationsto determine what went wrong in building the costly andcomplicated implementation system.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is dueto testify later this week before a House of Representativescommittee, while government contractors work around the clock toimprove the Healthcare.gov website.

The outage that started in the early hours of Sunday causedthe data center to lose network connectivity with the federalgovernment's data services hub, an electronic traffic roundaboutthat links the online health insurance marketplaces withnumerous federal agencies and can verify people's identity,citizenship, and other facts.

Without the hub, consumers are unable to apply online forcoverage or determine their eligibility for federal subsidies tohelp pay for insurance premiums. On Saturday, Sebelius praisedthe hub's ability to perform complex calculations in quick timeas an example of a successful segment of the system.

HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said Sebelius spoke withVerizon's chief executive officer on Sunday afternoon to discussthe situation: "They committed to fixing the problem as soon aspossible."

The outage was affecting enrollment in all 50 states, aswell as Terremark customers not connected with the marketplaces,according to the HHS spokeswoman. She said the data center'snetwork connectivity went down during planned maintenance toreplace a failed networking component.

A spokesman for Verizon said the problem would be fixed "assoon as possible."

"Our engineers have been working with HHS and othertechnology companies to identify and address the root cause ofthe issue," Verizon spokesman Jeff Nelson said.

The administration has expressed confidence it can fixunderlying problems with Healthcare.gov by early December, intime for people to meet a Dec. 15 deadline to enroll in newhealth plans to receive benefits on Jan. 1. Further delays wouldjeopardize its ability to enroll as many as 7 million Americansfor coverage during Obamacare's first year.

Sebelius, who faces Republican calls for her resignation,will be grilled about her role in the Obamacare rollout onWednesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Contractors have already blamed the administration for notconducting enough vital system-wide testing and for alast-minute design change requiring online visitors to set upaccounts before window-shopping for insurance. The change iswidely blamed for creating early bottlenecks as millions ofpeople flooded the website.

Health officials in Connecticut, one of the 14 states thatconstructed their own marketplaces, were the first to report onSunday that potential customers would not be able to completethe sign-up process for some services but could create accountsand search for pricing comparisons.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the HHSagency responsible for the federal system, told Connecticutofficials about the outage and gave no indication of when thedata services hub would be functioning again, said a spokeswomanfor Access Health CT, the Connecticut exchange.

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