WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama stood in the Rose Garden on Monday and, while acknowledging problems with healthcare.gov, sang the praises of his signature healthcare law. He did so with people who have enrolled in the federal healthcare exchange flanking him.
But, although some have managed to sign up, thousands more have encountered problems even viewing their options for healthcare plans. House investigators think they’ve discovered why: The Obama administration decided to hide them.
Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday announced they have information indicating the administration—a month before the website’s launch—ordered contractors building the insurance portal to change the system so that unregistered shoppers can’t see price comparisons.
In interviews with contractors last week, “officials would routinely state: ‘this is what the White House wants,’” lawmakers wrote in a letter to officials in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). “We believe that the political decision to mask the ‘sticker shock’ of Obamacare to the American people prevented contractors from using universally accepted and OMB-advocated IT ‘best practices’ in the development and roll out of this massive federal government IT project. … The result is the chaotic mess we have today.”
Contractors could not say who at the White House had asked them to remove the ability to shop without registering for an account—which requires entering a lot of personal information—but they said the directive came in late August or early September.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., head of the Oversight committee, signed the letter with four of his subcommittee chairmen: Reps. John Mica, R-Fla., James Lankford, R-Okla., Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. They cited interviews with contractors on Jan. 9 and Oct. 16.
Some of those contractors will appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee at a Thursday hearing to answer questions about Obamacare’s troubled beginnings. But the person lawmakers really want to grill, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, refused to appear—amid increasing calls for her resignation.
Members of the Oversight committee wrote that they sent repeated letters to Sebelius imploring her to improve HHS contracting practices. Estimates vary on how much the government spent developing the website, but many put the number at about $500 million.
Listen to Jim Henry, a reporter for The World and Everything in It, talk about the key problems nagging the Obamacare exchange: