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House Hearings on Obamacare Today; Playing the Blame Game; Spirit Airlines, Grounded; McDonalds Institutes McResource Line; Murder Suspect was Teacher's Student; Red Sox Win Game One of World Series

Aired October 24, 2013 - 09:00   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, she will not be at the hearing today. That is scheduled for next week. But the private contractors that helped build the Obamacare Web site, they will be on the hot seat.

Meanwhile, an insurance industry source has told CNN that some of the nation's top health insurers knew about these Obamacare Web site problems before the site fully launched. In the meantime, that same source also tells CNN that administration officials did not fully disclose to the White House what was wrong with the site.


ACOSTA (voice-over): With the Obamacare finger pointing shifting into high gear, the private contractors that built the troubled Web site are already still saying, don't blame us. Still, they're offering conflicting stories of what went wrong and prepared testimony before today's hearing at the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

While one executive is expected to say the site passed eight required technical reviews prior to going live on October 1st, another contractor says, a late decision requiring consumers to register for an account before they could browse for insurance products is behind some of the problems. Not only do House Republicans want answers --

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: It is our job to hold them accountable. And when it comes to Obamacare, clearly there's an awful lot that needs to be held accountable.

ACOSTA: Some of President Obama's fellow Democrats want heads to roll.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's inexcusable. Somebody ought to get fired.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kathleen Sebelius?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. They should wait and get the thing up and running and then determine and let somebody be accountable.

ACOSTA: A health insurance industry insider tells CNN contractors and officials at the Department of Health and Human Services knew about the site's problem but gave a far rosier picture to the White House. That insider says no one wanted to go to the White House and say to the president that your signature legislative achievement may not go so well.

But White House officials insist the president wasn't intentionally kept in the dark.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We did not know until the problems manifested themselves after the launch that they would be as significant as they have turned out to be.

ACOSTA: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told CNN the president did not know about the problems until after the site was fully launched.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HHS SECRETARY: Well, I think it became clear fairly early on, the first couple of days that --


SEBELIUS: No, sir.

ACOSTA: All the more reason, Republicans say, for the president to hold somebody accountable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, the president himself seems embarrassed by it. And if he's not going to resign over this mess, why, he ought to decide who should.


ACOSTA: Later today the administration is going to try something new. They're going to start holding regular briefings on the progress being made to fix the Obamacare Web site. Meanwhile, we should also point out the Department of Health and Human Services is trying to clear up some confusion on the deadline for Americans to buy insurance so they don't have to pay a penalty to the IRS. HHS now says that that deadline is definitely March 31st.

So, Carol, circle that date on your calendar, March 31st.


Jim Acosta, I know you'll stand by with more as needed. Thank you so much.

Jim Acosta reporting live from the White House.

So as lawmakers pepper the contractors with questions this morning, there will be two main focuses of the grilling. Who's to blame for the bungled the Web site -- after all the hearing is titled "PTACA Implementation Failures," didn't know or didn't disclose.

CNN's Joe Johns is in our Washington bureau.

Good morning, Joe.


COSTELLO: So will --


COSTELLO: Will this hearing be more about pointing fingers than fixing what's wrong?

JOHNS: We're going to probably hear a little bit of everything, Carol. We're expecting to hear from contractors who were brought in to help with the Web site, as you said.

We do have an idea of what they're expected to say thanks to advanced testimony for the hearing before the House Reform and Oversight Committee. Actually the testimony today is going to be before the Energy and Commerce Committee. One of the contractors for the Web site, a company called Optum QQSI is saying the problems with the Web site might be traced back to a late decision, essentially a last- minute change apparently by the government requiring consumers to register for an account before they could browse for insurance.

A requirement to register apparently put a lot of pressure on the site's registration function and that kind of demand was unexpected. QQSI also said it had been involved in testing the Web site and actually identified errors in code and they also say they did report these errors to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Another contractor CGI is expected to say there was a bottleneck in site security.

But, interestingly, one of the contractors, Equifax, which maintains the largest database of its kind in the country for income verification, is expected to say it tested its system and didn't have any issues. And it was actually able to process massive volumes of data, up to 120,000 verifications requests within an hour without any problem.

So, Carol, just a full range of testimony, an opportunity for these contractors to get on the record about what they did and didn't do.

COSTELLO: Just a -- just a thought about these contractors. Let's say, you know, contractor is not going to sit there and say, you know what, my company is to blame. It is our fault that these exchanges are not working. A company is -- is probably not going to admit that because then that company would have to absorb all of the costs of fixing, it right?

JOHNS: Right. It's definitely not in their interest to come out and say, we messed this thing up. However, we are expecting to get a little bit more of an idea of who the other guy says messed this thing up. So there could be a certain amount of finger-pointing between and among the contractors without naming names, if you will.

COSTELLO: Oh, I bet there'll be lots of finger-pointing.

Joe Johns, stick around. Thank you so much.

An anonymous source says federal officials did not allow testing for until four to six days before the big launch but a system that big normally needs four to six months of testing.

CNN Money's technology correspondent Laurie Segall joins me now.

So, Laurie, the blame game officially, it begins today. From your perspective, as a tech person, how might it go?

LAURIE SEGALL, CNN MONEY TECH CORRESPONDENT: Look, absolutely. What you said, this kind of technology takes a long time to test. To put a Web site like that's very complex out there and not test it before, in Silicon Valley, they're shaking their heads. Because in order to do this kind of thing, you've got to go in and you've got to break your servers.

So today we're going to probably hear quite a bit about why it wasn't properly tested ahead of time. You have Cheryl Campbell, the SVP of one of the contractors, saying that you can never really anticipate what a Web site is going to be like when it goes live. Well, let's take a step back.

You might not be able to anticipate that, Carol, but what you can do is go in and you can actually -- essentially break your servers. You can -- you can say, hey, we're probably going to get a lot of traffic. This is a very popular agenda. We're expecting a lot of people. We need to make sure we have enough server capacity. That's not necessarily what happened here. And today we might hear a little bit about why that didn't happen.

COSTELLO: I was just paying attention to Representative Fred Upton, he is the chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. He's making his opening statement. That will take 10 minutes, and then the Democrat, the ranking member of this committee, Henry Waxman, will make a 10-minute opening statement, and then the testimony will begin.

I wanted to ask you one more question, Laurie, before you go, though. Actually you're going to stick around but I want to ask you one more question. At least in the next couple of minutes. We hear a lot of differing accounts on how to fix this thing. Some people say the whole system needs to be scrapped and we need to start over. What are you hearing?

SEGALL: You know, what I'm hearing is, look, that might be idealistic, right? You can't just scrap this whole system. A lot of money was put into this system. That being said, what they're doing now is they're going in and they're specifying part by part what exactly went wrong.

If you look on HHS, if you look on their site now, they're now committed to saying, this is what went wrong, this is how we're fixing it. The servers weren't working, we've added more servers. We've changed virtual hardware, we're making that -- we changed virtual technology into hardware. I mean, that's what we're going to be hearing about now. And what Joe Johns mentioned earlier about, you know, going in and realizing, OK, you know, maybe they made some last-minute decisions that made it very difficult. You know, a last minute decision where you have a complex Web site and you can't really code a last-minute decision under a deadline. I mean, that's what we're going to be looking at now.

Are they going to extend this deadline? How many engineers are they bringing in and what exactly are they doing to fix some of these underlying problems now that we're hearing a little bit more about what these problems are. Of course, I can imagine we're going to see a lot of finger-pointing as well at this point.

COSTELLO: Oh, I bet you're right. Laurie, you stick around. We're going to continue to monitor this hearing when testimony begins, of course, we'll take it live.

Want to check our other top stories this morning, though, at nine minutes past the hour.

President Obama tells German Chancellor Angela Merkel the United States does not monitor her phone calls. Merkel had called the president after the German government said her calls might have been monitored. Germany and other nations had already expressed concerns about possible U.S. spying based on classified information leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

We have breaking news off the western coast of Africa. Just minutes ago we learned that pirates have attacked a U.S. flagship and abducted the captain and chief engineer. Both men are believed to be U.S. citizens. According to the British based security firm AKE, that attack took place off the southernmost coast of Nigeria, not far from Cameroon.

We'll bring you more details as we get them into CNN.

The cousin of Robert Kennedy Jr. in prison for more than a decade for 1975 killing is getting a new trial and could soon be released on bond. Michael Skakel was convicted of killing his neighbor, Martha Moxley. A judge ruled Skakel's defense was inadequate. State prosecutors plan to appeal the ruling.

Hundreds of passengers are stranded at Ft. Lauderdale's airport after Spirit Airlines delayed multiple flights. The airlines says it's doing a proactive and voluntary check on aircraft engines after one failed last week, but those engine checks are causing significant delays.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very frustrating. I'm tired, I'm sleepy, hungry. Better to just go and lay down. It's maintenance problems. It's maintenance problem. That's what I've been hearing from Spirit employees and other people, other passengers.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COSTELLO: Spirit told CNN it plans to finish all necessary checks this morning.


COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, no pot of gold under the Golden Arches.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. I'm Nancy. I wanted more information about some help that I need.

COSTELLO: McDonald's calls it the Mc-Resource line, helping their workers get food stamp and heating assistance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do have you kids? Are you --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, yes. Two kids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. You would most likely be eligible for SNAP benefits.

COSTELLO: So why not just pay their workers more?

NEWSROOM is back after a break.



COSTELLO: We are keeping an eye on Capitol Hill this morning. As you can see, a hearing is now under way. This is the Committee on Energy and Commerce, part of the House of Representatives. The ranking member, the Democrat, Congressman Henry Waxman, is now making his opening statements.

Set to testify, contractors responsible for setting up these health care exchanges that have not exactly been working. When that testimony begins, of course, we'll dip back in for you.

On with the rest of the news. A very touching moment during the World Series last night. The Red Sox honored a teacher killed outside of Boston area high school. Before game one, Fenway Park held a moment of silence for Colleen Ritzer. People in the Boston area and across the nation are heartbroken, trying to make sense of this brutal killing.

Also this morning, students are returning to class in most Danvers, Massachusetts, high schools -- or schools, rather. The high school is open only for grief counseling.

We're also learning more about the 14-year-old boy accused of assaulting and killing that 24-year-old teacher.

CNN's Pamela Brown live in Danvers, Massachusetts, in morning. Good morning, Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning to you, Carol. This is certainly a grief-stricken community. We spoke to the victim's best friend since childhood as well as one of her long-time teachers, and they both say they're de stated by her loss. They say it just doesn't make any sense.

It's still such a mystery why Ritzer, a beloved 24-year-old math teacher, could be killed allegedly at the hands of one of her own students.


BROWN (voice-over): Known for her infectious smile and bubbly personality. This exclusive archive video shows Colleen Ritzer as a TV production student in high school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The entire room would light up.

BROWN: Jen Berger says her best friend since kindergarten was living her childhood dream of being a math teacher.

JENNIFER BERGER, RITZER'S BEST FRIEND: She was talking about how this year was such a good year. She was teaching freshmen for the first time. They seemed so enthusiastic and she was happy.

BROWN: Her life cut short, her body left outside the school where she loved to teach.

BERGER: I don't know what the world is like without her. It's a scary, scary thought.

BROWN: The loss felt by an entire community. Students and colleagues at Danvers High School say her enthusiasm was limitless, spilling over on to her Twitter, Facebook and her blog.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was always the teacher to go the extra mile for students.

BROWN: So why would one of her own students, 14-year-old Philip Chism, allegedly assault and beat her to death?

During his arraignment on a charge of murder, he stayed silent.

Chism went missing after school Tuesday. Adding to the mystery, Ritzer's family reported she hadn't returned home that night. The teen was found in a nearby town, the teacher's body discovered sometime later in the woods behind her school.

JOE SPANISH, RITZER'S FORMER TEACHER: She's the last person to hurt anybody. So, obviously, she was defenseless.

BROWN: Investigators allege Chism incriminated himself in police interviews and there was evidence on video cameras from Danvers High School as well as blood found in a second floor bathroom. A source close to the investigation says Chism went to the movies after allegedly killing Ritzer. As a new student at Danvers, Chism was making strides as a soccer player.

KYLE CAYHILL, DANVERS HIGH SCHOOL JUNIOR: Nothing out of the ordinary, just quiet, normal kid.

BROWN: Ritzer's best friend still coming to grips with this tragedy.

BERGER: She was the type of person who loved her family and friends more than anything in the world. I just hope that she knew how much she was loved by everyone else in her life because she really had an impact on all of us. My life is so much better because she was my friend.


BROWN: And, Carol, there really has been an outpouring of love for Ritzer. Behind me is a memorial for her. There was a vigil held her last night. Students, faculty, members of the community came here to pay their respects.

Also the prosecution says it intends to try Chism as an adult, but that decision is ultimately up to a grand jury.

Of course, we're still waiting to learn more about what the motive was in this story, Carol. So many people have so many unanswered questions right now.

COSTELLO: Pamela Brown reporting live from Danvers, Massachusetts. Thanks so much.

We're continuing to monitor things on Capitol Hill. This is the House hearing. It's looking into problems with Obamacare, exchanges.

This is actually Congressman Tim Murphy. He's a Republican. He's delivering an opening statement. Testimony has not begun just yet. When it does, of course, we'll take it live.

We got to take a break, though. We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Back to Capitol Hill for just a second. We're continuing to monitor this hearing on Obamacare and what went wrong. Soon, we'll hear from the tech experts, people who set up these exchanges and these lawmakers will ask them pointed questions about exactly what went wrong.

Congressman Joe Barton of Texas is now making his opening statement. Previous lawmakers have said during their opening statements, we want an explanation on how this system will be fixed, how much it will cost and how long it will take. When the testimony begins, we'll go back to Capitol Hill and take it live for you.

Let's talk sports now, though. The birds make boo boos and the beards made them pay. The Boston Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals 8-1 in the opening game of the World Series. The Cardinals had three errors, including one play where the umpires reversed a call. While Mike Napoli and David Ortiz delivered big, big hits for the Sox.

Andy Scholes is with me now.

Good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, THE BLEACHER REPORT: Good morning, Carol. You know what, sure looked like the Red Sox were the better team last night, didn't it?

COSTELLO: It sure did.

SCHOLES: The Cardinals, we don't know what it was, the cold weather or those whacky plays but they didn't look like the same team that blew through the National League in the playoffs thus far. Boston, what can you say, they've been Boston strong all season. They were definitely Boston strong early and often last night. They jumped on the cards.

As we saw, game started off with a little controversy. Let's take another look at that play at second base. The umpires originally called this an out, as Pete Kozma tries to turn the double play.

We have instant replay but give it to the umpires this time. They huddled, talked about it and eventually change the call, called the runner safe.

Carol, what do you know? Very next batter will be Mike Napoli. Hits a double into the gap. All three runners come around to score. The night kept snow ball negotiate wrong direction for the Cardinals. It was 4 -0 in the second. It could have been much worse. Big Papi comes to the plate in the second inning with bases loaded and launch this is one deep to right.

Check out Carlos Beltran. He makes an amazing catch, robbing him of the grand slam.


SCHOLES: That was good news there. The bad news, as can you see, Beltran bruised his rib. He leaves the game in the next inning. Papi gets revenge in the seventh. He comes out making sure no one will catch that ball. That was a two-run home run, just a little insurance, Carol.

The Red Sox won the game easily, 8-1. Cardinals definitely need to play better, much better tonight, if they hope to even the series at a game apiece.

COSTELLO: I feel sorry -- I thought they were machines but they're human, these St. Louis Cardinals, human.

SCHOLES: Beltran left game one in the third inning. He's day to day. People still expect him to play. He played with broken ribs back in 2005 and I can't imagine he would miss World Series because of bruised ribs.

COSTELLO: I'm sure like so many other players, he'll play injured. And we know, Andy, that injuries are certainly part of the game.

But Major League Baseball is now looking into banning one source of injuries. That would be collisions at home plate. Another sign that concussions are not just a concern in football. In fact, the Freel family want to know if concussions cost their son Ryan to commit suicide. They even donated his brain to Boston University to find out.


NORMA VARGAS, RYAN FREEL'S MOTHER: He was always very active, very impulsive person. I don't know, why would he be depressed when he basically had it all?

COSTELLO (voice-over): Ryan Freel did have it all, a career in the majors and fans loved him. His style of play was fearless but it cost him dearly. As many as ten concussions in eight years, something his mother constantly worried about.

VARGAS: I kept saying to my Ryan, why don't you go to the doctor, have -- you know, have some tests done. I'm fine, I'm fine. I'm not sure that Ryan thought that his problem was the concussions at all.

COSTELLO: Three years after Freel retired, he took a shotgun and killed himself. He was 36 years old.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: If someone has a concussion and it's not recognized because people aren't paying attention to it in a sport like baseball, and then they get another concussion on top of it, that's not just potentially a small problem, but that is a potentially lethal problem.

COSTELLO: Increasingly, concussions are sideling some of baseball's brightest stars. This season alone, 28 major leaguers suffered concussions. Twins' catcher Joe Mauer, Philly's outfielder Dominick Brown and Tigers catcher Alex Avila among them. Other players, including San Diego's Nick Hundley now wonder if they'll be healthy in retirement.

NICK HUNDLEY, PADRES CATCHER: Your responsibility is to your family first. If you continue to play through concussions and stuff and you see long-term effects of it, you know, I just had a daughter, you know, that makes it -- puts in perspective a little bit more.

COSTELLO: Major League Baseball says it's trying to better protect its players. It implemented a seven-day concussion disabled list separate from the normal 15-day disabled list, to encourage more players to admit they have a problem.

DR. GARY GREEN, MEDICAL, MLB: Now that we've started to identify these injuries, we'll start to focus on ways of reducing it. One of the things we've done is start to study catcher helmets. COSTELLO: MLB is especially concerned about catchers. Green also says reinforce the hats are a possibility for pitchers, possibly as soon as next season.

Something Tigers' ace Max Scherzer told me he welcomes.

MAX SCHERZER, TIGERS PITCHER: I'm kind of in a vulnerable spot. There's a lot of balls come back at me that I react later than most pitchers, so if it's something that's comfortable and something that's practical, I think -- I know personally I would want to wear it.

COSTELLO: But other players and managers are not sold on the idea, in spite of the danger. But for Ryan Freel's family, the risks are not worth a life.

VARGAS: I ask myself just about every day, what have -- what could I have done to save Ryan? But you know what, I feel like it -- I did a lot. Even the day before he took his life, I went to his house and I remember holding -- he was in bed. I held his hand and I said, son, let's go to a counselor. He already was taking counseling. And he said, don't worry about it, mom. I will Monday. I will start on Monday.


COSTELLO: Major League Baseball is also expected to discuss banning home plate collisions at the upcoming winter meetings. At every level below professional levels, there are rules in place to provide catchers and runners by providing a clear path to home plate. We'll keep you posted.

We'll keep you posted about the hearing on Capitol Hill. This hearing on Obamacare is underway. All of these lawmakers on the committee are making opening statements. And then testimony is set to begin from the contractors responsible for setting up

We're going to take a break. We'll be back with much more in the NEWSROOM.