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What we learned — and didn't -- from Obamacare website hearing

By Leigh Ann Caldwell, CNN
updated 6:39 AM EDT, Fri October 25, 2013

Washington (CNN) -- The congressional hearing lasted for 4½ hours. Of the thousands of words spoken between what seemed like all 54 members on the House committee roster and four witnesses representing government contractors responsible for healthcare.gov, five things could be taken away.

No answers to key questions

How many error logs did you receive? How many people have been able to enroll? When will it be fixed? Those are three major questions lawmakers asked. Reasonable, especially since those questions would provide insight about the scope of the problem. But those are the questions that the witnesses did not answer.

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"I don't have that information," or, "I don't have that (data) with me" or "I'm not able to provide that information" were the responses.

Witnesses told lawmakers on the Energy and Commerce Committee they would provide that information by 9 a.m. Friday. If not, perhaps next week's hearing on the website woes will provide clarity to some of those questions.

Democrats have a new slogan

"Fix it, don't nix it." That's the quaint rhyme Democratic committee members repeated throughout the hearing as they came to the defense of the Affordable Care Act but pressed the witnesses to solve the website's problems.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, used the phrase when criticizing Republican efforts to undo the law, also known as Obamacare.

"The Republicans don't have clean hands coming here," Pallone said. "Their effort isn't to make this better, but to use the website as an excuse to delay or defund Obamacare."

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Republicans still don't like Obamacare

Shocker. Republicans have not been shy about their hatred of Obamacare and they surely didn't miss this opportunity.

And Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, was the best at making that point. He clearly connected the shortcomings of healthcare.gov -- the purpose of the hearing -- to the entire health care law.

"Garbage in, garbage out," Scalise said after being told by the witnesses that they delivered the product specified in the agreement with the Obama administration. "If you're given a bad product to build then ultimately what you'll deliver is a bad product," he added.

Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, also did a pretty good job. "This lie is way beyond an awful computer program. This lie affects the health and well-being of every American," Olson said.

About CMS

CMS might have been the most commonly used term throughout the hearing. It's the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a division of the Health and Human Services Department and is responsible for all major government health care programs, including Obamacare.

CMS got blamed for everything.

Cheryl Campbell of contractor CGI Federal definitely did not make any friends at CMS after Thursday's hearing. She deflected any responsibility and blamed CMS.

She said "a team of individuals" at CMS was the "orchestrator" of the project. She said it was CMS's decision to go live on October 1. She said CMS was responsible for testing healthcare.gov.

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No one really got the tech-speak

Data services hub, end-to-end testing, enterprise identity management.

Those are some of the technical terms used during the hearing. And each of the companies represented were responsible for a different aspect of the website, adding to the confusion of who did what.

Few committee members come from a technology background, so the discussion was not always clear.

Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, asked witness Andrew Slavitt with Optum/QSSI a question about the website's "front door." Slavitt politely explained that Cassidy wasn't using the term correctly.

"I am not sure I really understand the term 'front door' in this context," Slavitt said.

CNN's Ashley Killough and Tom Cohen contributed to this report

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