Equifax unit avoids Obamacare woes for now

As the federal government has worked to fix its problem-plagued health insurance website, the private contractors who helped build it have also come under fire.

Equifax Workforce Solutions, a St. Louis-based subsidiary of Equifax, the credit reporting giant headquartered in Atlanta, is responsible for verifying the incomes of people who apply for federal subsidies when trying to buy insurance through government exchanges.

A top executive of Equifax Workforce Solutions was called upon to testify at a congressional hearing, but the company's work for the government has not so far been linked to the snafus that have bogged down the system, according to spokespeople for Equifax and for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, known as CMS. The agency is charged with rolling out the health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

The contract between Workforce Solutions and the government is up for renewal each year for a five-year period, and if it runs the full length it could have a maximum value of $329 million. The annual revenue in 2012 for Workforce Solutions, which was acquired when Equifax purchased TALX in 2007, was $463 million.

Many of the problems with the government’s website have stymied users before they ever reach the Workforce Solutions process, which comes into play at the end of the insurance application.

The CMS awarded the contract to Workforce Solutions last March.

The biggest problems occurred around the system’s ability to verify the identities of applicants, government officials said, and to send that information to insurers. Other contractors were involved in those parts of the project.

“The Equifax Workforce Solutions income verification solution is working as designed,” said Lynn Spellecy, corporate counsel for the company, in testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce.

She said the program had “not experienced any significant problems or interruptions …” since the exchanges launched Oct. 1, and “we have not experienced any issues, down times or anomalies since the start date.”

Spellecy said Workforce Solutions had, tested its system prior to the launch so that it “would be prepared for current and future applicant volumes.”

Workforce Solutions verifies an applicant’s income only after the applicant gains access to the HealthCare.gov website or to a state-based exchange.

“Equifax does not play a role in any of these steps or the identity-proofing and authentication that accompanies them,” Spellecy said.

The company verifies employment and income by using information provided to it by more than 3,000 employers. It has 54 million current employee payroll records and expects to have 78 million by 2017. The information is otherwise used for purposes such as housing or auto purchase applications.