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Affordable Care Act

FL Firms Figure in Mess

First, it was Florida's elected officials who went after President Obama's Affordable Care Act, filing suit against it and blocking it in any way they could. Now it's the private sector -- albeit unwittingly.

The data center host for Healthcare.gov, Verizon Terremark, has its world headquarters in Miami. It has gone down three or four times this week (accounts differ) -- most memorably while Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was testifying before Congress on Wednesday.

The other Florida company that gave Republican opponents of Obamacare ammunition was Florida Blue, based in Jacksonville. It set off howls of outrage by sending out 300,000 letters to individual policyholders that everyone --- including the nation's major newspapers and TV networks -- are calling "cancellation notices." The same thing happened in other states, but with smaller numbers.

On Wednesday, Florida Blue officials scrambled to mitigate the damage they'd caused, as the Miami Herald reported (paywall alert). 

"We’re not terminating anyone’s coverage,’’ Jon Urbanek, Florida Blue’s senior vice president of commercial markets, told the Herald. “We’re essentially going to go through a transition to qualified plans.’’

In other words, they're switching customers from plans that didn't meet the requirements of the ACA -- some plans reportedly didn't even cover hospital bills -- to plans that do.  Those plans tend to cost more, so customers who don't qualify for subsidies, or at least don't know yet whether they qualify, are squawking.

Ironically, Blue has been a major force behind implementation of the law in Florida, offering numerous plans on the federal website from which shoppers can choose -- or which they will someday be able to choose, if the website begins functioning more smoothly. Healthcare.gov was launched on Oct. 1 but has proven too balky to function for most applicants.

To be sure, most of the website problems have been laid at the door of CGI Federal, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Canadian company CGI Group, based in Montreal. CGI Federal acted as the IT contractor on the project.  It, along with the Obama administration, is suffering from a black eye over the mess.

Verizon Terremark, a subsidiary of Verizon Communications, flew under the radar until last Sunday, when it suffered a network failure that took down Healthcare.gov and sites from other unidentified companies. Reuters reported that the outage affected Healthcare.gov nationwide, and quoted a Verizon spokesman as saying its engineers were working with HHS and other technology companies to identify the cause.

It recovered later but disappeared again Tuesday night, as Reuters then reported. It quoted an unnamed Verizon official as saying the company was working all night to figure out what was happening.

States that ran their own exchanges crashed on Tuesday night, but were up again Wednesday, if slow, CNN reported.  But the federal website, which handles 36 states including Florida, was still bearing the banner that the site was down.

On Wednesday, as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was being grilled at the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Healthcare.gov went dead for either the third or the fourth time in a week, the number depending on who was counting.

To make matters worse, Sebelius appeared not to know about it when she denied during the hearing that it had crashed.

Health News Florida asked both Verizon Terremark and Florida Blue to offer comments on the problems and will update this article or post another if they respond.