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Panel told PPACA implementation on track

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A House panel checked the pulse of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act implementation and found no clear signs of immediate disaster.

Representatives of four big contractors testified in a rare joint appearance Tuesday before the House Energy and Commerce committee that they believe the exchange program will start on time. The contractors have routinely ignored media requests to explain their work, but they could not rebuff Congress.

The contractors each said at a hearing on PPACA implementation 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.

Cheryl Campbell, a senior vice president of CGI Federal, Inc., said her company is “confident” its part of the job will be ready Oct. 1. The Virginia-based contractor is building the federally run marketplace, with Washington running the markets or taking the lead in 35 states.

Michael Finkel, an executive vice president of QSSI, Inc., delivered a status report on the lynchpin of the system, a federal data hub that functions as the router for verifying key eligibility data. The hub will ping federal agencies such as Social Security, Homeland Security and the Internal Revenue Service to verify identity, legal residence and income. Finkel said his Maryland-based company expects the hub to be ready as planned.

John Lau, program director for Serco, said his company is staffing up to handle paper applications and other tasks.

Lynn Spellecy, a corporate lawyer for Equifax Workforce Solutions, said the subsidiary of the well-known credit reporting company is ready to help verifying income and employment.

The contractors’ confidence about things looking good for the Oct. 1 debut of the exchanges comes despite Republican concerns over PPACA’s implementation.

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee said they were worried about how states, federal agencies and federal contractors could get the PPACA public exchanges up and running by the October deadline, or the PPACA insurance market rules in place by Jan. 1.

Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., chairman of the subcommittee, said he has heard reports of employers in his district eliminating some jobs and cutting workers’ hours as a result of PPACA.

“I’m afraid this Rube Goldberg experiment will not end well,” Pitts said during the hearing, which was streamed live on the Web.

Brett Graham, a partner at Leavitt Partners, a consulting firm affiliated with an official who served as U.S. Health and Human Services secretary under President George W. Bush, predicted a rocky debut for the exchanges. He said managers of some state-based exchanges have been talking about “de-scoping” — narrowing their ambitions — since April. 

Some states are trying to test their exchange systems even though they haven’t completed work on the systems, Graham said.

Edward Lenz, who testified on behalf of the Employers for Flexibility in Health Care Coalition, said rigid employee counting rules and delays in efforts to clarify and implement the PPACA employer coverage mandate are hurting coalition members.

Even though the federal government is pushing back the effective date of the employer mandate one year, employers need clear-cut employee counting rules now, so that, by Jan. 1, they can set up the systems they need to start tracking and classifying workers, Lenz said.

But Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., said House Republicans are the ones slowing PPACA implementation, by harassing some of the nonprofit organizations that are supposed to help to enroll consumers in exchange plans.

House Republicans have sent one “navigator” group in Pallone’s district — a food bank — a letter asking for detailed information about its enrollment activities.

“My concern is that this letter is solely designed to cause delay,” Pallone said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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