Former official: Admin refused to bring in outside help for ObamaCare website for fear GOP would subpoena them; Update: Ten-year-old technology? Update: No improvement in week two; Update: Wasn’t tested until days before launch?

posted at 4:41 pm on October 17, 2013 by Allahpundit

Via Lachlan Markay and Ace, who calls it “Nixonian.” This is the rare Hot Air item that might actually make liberals angrier at the White House than conservatives. If you’d staked your party’s credibility on realizing the utopian dream of universal health care only to have Obama deliver this fartburger, you’d be furious. Why anyone on either side still wants Sebelius in charge, I have no idea.

Facing such intense opposition from congressional Republicans, the administration was in a bunker mentality as it built the enrollment system, one former administration official said. Officials feared that if they called on outsiders to help with the technical details of how to run a commerce website, those companies could be subpoenaed by Hill Republicans, the former aide said. So the task fell to trusted campaign tech experts.

Very important to understand: Between this and the fact that HHS deliberately hid the price of insurance behind a reg wall on Healthcare.gov to reduce “rate shock,” the grand takeaway about the website’s failure is that O and his team made it much worse than it needed to be because they were terrified of transparency. And the reason they were terrified of transparency, both in the case of hiding the cost of the premiums from web users and hiding the site’s architectural problems from contractors who might be hauled before Congress, is because they know they’ve delivered a bad product. Put the premiums on the front page and the public, expecting “affordable care,” would recoil at the truth. Put the contractors at the witness table before Issa’s committee and the public, expecting that the government would “fix” health care, would recoil upon discovering that they can’t even build a website with three years’ lead time.

I don’t know what’s more amazing, that they’d place their own political comfort above creating a smoother user experience for the uninsured or that they somehow didn’t realize that a botched rollout on October 1 would be far more embarrassing than contractors talking to Republicans under oath. Or … would it? What was HHS so worried that outside contractors would tell the GOP that they preferred to risk total chaos on the exchanges during launch month instead?

Apropos of nothing, Reuters is now reporting that the budget for the site exploded earlier this year as the Hopenchange brain trust realized they were way, way, way off course. And by “exploded,” I mean “tripled”:

How and why the system failed, and how long it will take to fix, remains unclear. But evidence of a last-minute surge in spending suggests the needs of the project were growing well beyond the initial expectations of the contractor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Why this went from a ceiling of $93.7 million to $292 million is hard to fathom,” said Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group that analyzes government contracting.

“Something changed. It suggests they ran into problems and knew last spring that they couldn’t do it for $93.7 million. They just blew through the original ceiling. Where was the contract oversight?”…

The Obama administration was issuing regulations and changing policy regarding how the reform should be implemented late into this summer. Many required significant changes to the IT running Healthcare.gov, which kept contractors scrambling.

We’ll need congressional hearings to find out which regulations forced the IT team to scramble at the eleventh hour to rework the site, but this could be another example of the White House’s desire to hide the uglier parts of this boondoggle creating problems for the website architecture. Remember, it was only this past summer that HHS suddenly decided to eliminate income verification for subsidies for the first year. Applicants will be placed on the “honor system” in reporting their wages, which is basically an invitation to commit fraud — but which serves the end of making those subsidies nice and robust for anyone willing to lie, which encourages enrollment. Could be that they built the site with the income verification tech integrated and then had to tear it out quickly and haphazardly once HHS changed its mind, leading to bugs. Like I say, this is what congressional hearings are for.

Nancy Pelosi, by the way, thinks there’s no reason at all to delay ObamaCare if the exchanges are still a disaster come December, which also happens to be the deadline for enrollment if you want your coverage to begin in January. I’d be surprised if there’s a single manager anywhere in the insurance industry who agrees with her, given the Thunderdome-levels of chaos Glitchapalooza will be causing them next year if this persists much longer.

Update: Merry Christmas, Barack.

The federal health care exchange was built using 10-year-old technology that may require constant fixes and updates for the next six months and the eventual overhaul of the entire system, technology experts told USA TODAY…

Recent changes have made the exchanges easier to use, but they still require clearing the computer’s cache several times, stopping a pop-up blocker, talking to people via Web chat who suggest waiting until the server is not busy, opening links in new windows and clicking on every available possibility on a page in the hopes of not receiving an error message. With those changes, it took one hour to navigate the HealthCare.gov enrollment process Wednesday.

Those steps shouldn’t be necessary, experts said.

“I have never seen a website — in the last five years — require you to delete the cache in an effort to resolve errors,” said Dan Schuyler, a director at Leavitt Partners, a health care group by former Health and Human Services secretary Mike Leavitt. “This is a very early Web 1.0 type of fix.”

You’ll have to read the rest to find out how clearing your cache might actually cause new errors.

Update: Icing on the cake from health-industry consultant Bob Laszewski, who says the system’s scarcely improved after another week of frantic HHS triage:

At the end of week two of the Obamacare launch, health plans were generally seeing no more enrollments per day then they saw in the first week.

As troubling, the backroom issues plaguing the connection between health insurers and the federal government had not been resolved and there is no indication from the feds when they will have these things cleared up.

My sense is that the feds, based upon the number of enrollments they have sent to the insurance companies, enrolled about 10,000 people in the first week (about 5,000 single and family contracts) and another 10,000 people in the second week in the 36 states using the federal exchange.

I guesstimated that the feds were up to 95,000 or so enrollments in my earlier post, less than 20 percent of HHS’s target for October. Laszewski thinks even that number is wildly optimistic. If he’s right and they’re only at 20,000 enrollments total, they’re at less than five percent of their goal.

Update: No one’s getting fired, huh?

The root cause of the problems was a pivotal decision by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services officials to act as systems integrator, the central coordinator for the entire program. Usually this role is reserved for the prime information technology contractor.

As a result, full testing of the site was delayed until four to six days before the fateful Oct. 1 launch of the health care exchanges, the individual said…

“Normally a system this size would need 4-6 months of testing and performance tuning, not 4-6 days,” the individual said.

The source said there were “ever-changing, conflicting and exceedingly late project directions. The actual system requirements for Oct. 1 were changing up until the week before,” the individual said.

How could they have done a worse job?


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