WASHINGTON (AP) - Major contractors hooking up the internal plumbing of President Barack Obama's health care law projected confidence Tuesday that they will be ready to go by an Oct. 1 deadline, even though the system is still being tested.
With just three weeks to go before new state health insurance markets launch, efforts are ongoing to reliably link up government agencies, the markets themselves and private health plans.
The congressional Government Accountability Office warned this summer that with so much work left for the last minute, the timely and smooth launch of the markets could not be guaranteed. Still, with the president's image at stake, his administration is working all out to deliver.
But the administration got a boost this week when California officials said their marketplace - the nation's largest - would start enrolling uninsured people Oct. 1 as scheduled, through a mix of online access, call center support and community helpers.
Representatives of four big contractors testified in a rare joint appearance Tuesday before the House Energy and Commerce committee. Republicans who run the panel billed the hearing as a "pulse check" on Obama's law. The contractors have routinely ignored media requests to explain their work, but they could not rebuff Congress.
A private consulting firm that is advising states also separately said it expects a rocky launch, due in part to the sheer scope of technicalities in the system.
Obama's health care law will provide subsidized private coverage for middle-class people who don't get health insurance from employers. Low-income people will be steered to an expanded version of Medicaid in states that accepted it.
The insurance marketplaces that launch Oct. 1 are supposed to be the gateway to the new system. People can apply online, through a call center, in person, or on paper. Thirty percent are expected to use paper.
Coverage takes effect Jan 1. At that time, insurers will be forbidden from turning away people in poor health and virtually all Americans will be required to carry health insurance or face fines. Two recent independent studies of rates already filed by insurers indicate plenty of low-premium plans will be available, but consumers who pick them will face high deductibles and copayments.
The four contractors each said they would be ready, and said they have strong safeguards in place to protect the privacy of personal data - an issue Republicans have lately raised as a potential vulnerability.