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

Reuters

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON, Oct 29 (Reuters) - The Obama administrationappears to have passed up offers from Amazon andMicrosoft to help fix the federal government's troubledhealthcare enrollment website, according to documents releasedon Tuesday by a Republican-led congressional investigatingcommittee.

An Oct. 7 inquiry from Amazon's subsidiary Amazon WebServices Inc. was turned down by two senior officials at theDepartment of Health and Human Services, which is overseeingimplementation of President Barack Obama's healthcare reformlaw, according to copies of emails provided by the House ofRepresentatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Microsoft also contacted HHS and the White House with offersof "technical expertise and assistance," but the company has notprovided any such services, a Microsoft representative said inan Oct. 25 letter to the committee. The letter did not saywhether the administration had responded to Microsoft's offers.

Representative Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of thecommittee and a dogged critic of the Obama administration, lastweek wrote to eight technology companies asking whether they hadbeen involved in what the administration had called a "techsurge" aimed at fixing the website, Healthcare.gov.

The oversight committee released some of the companies'responses.

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

The Obama administration said earlier this month it wasbringing in high-tech experts to sort out the website, but ithas given few details of who may be involved, other than toannounce 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 saidthere 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 isdoing 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 insurerUnitedHealth Group and also has a technology contractrelated to the website, for documents related to the project.

"SOME CHALLENGES"

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

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

HHS' Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak replied to Amazonby email on Oct. 8: "I wish there was. I actually wish there wassomething I could do to help."

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

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

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