CNN: HHS lied about “Anonymous Shopper” delay in Healthcare.gov
posted at 9:21 am on November 22, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
Why is this CNN exclusive important? The ObamaCare website forced Americans to create accounts before looking at prices and plans, which for the first several weeks they couldn’t access anyway. HHS officials told Congress that the part of the website that would have allowed people to see plan and pricing data wasn’t provided because it failed its tests, but documents obtained by CNN show it was one of the few functions that actually worked as planned:
When the troubled federal health care website came online, the key “Anonymous Shopper” function was nowhere to be found — even though it passed a key test almost two weeks before HealthCare.gov launched.
That successful test, noted in documents obtained by CNN and confirmed by a source close to the project, contradicts testimony from an Obama administration official overseeing HealthCare.gov, who told lawmakers earlier this month the function was scrapped because it “failed miserably” before the October 1 launch.
Like much of the HealthCare.gov rollout, the subject has become political fodder for Republicans, who claim the decision to nix the anonymous shopper was made by administration officials worried it would produce rate estimates so high they would deter potential enrollees.
Ironically, the Anonymous Shopper function actually would have spared the White House a lot of bad press, had HHS turned it on. For one thing, it would have diverted a lot of the lookie-loo traffic that arrived on the first few days of the rollout, which might have helped others get through account creation — although probably not. Another part of the frustration of the main site was the inability to even create an account to get to the data, while at the same time getting cancellations from existing insurers. This function would have provided a little certainty to consumers, as well as a rough estimate at least of their subsidies. Or perhaps not; the price shocks even with subsidies have outraged Americans, and maybe HHS wanted to delay the access to that bad news as long as possible.
Either way, this puts Henry Chao on the hot seat — again. The Deputy CIO of HHS was the man who informed Congress this week that the back end of Healthcare.gov hasn’t even been built yet, estimating that 30-40% of the overall system is still missing. That includes the mechanism for paying those subsidies to the insurers, which leaves in question whether anyone in the exchanges will actually have coverage at the beginning of the year. Insurers don’t begin coverage until they have full payment.
Now Chao has a much bigger problem. This is what Chao told Congress last week about Anonymous Shopper:
Chao said he made the decision in conjunction with colleagues and testified before Congress last week that it was because the feature “failed so miserably that we could not conscionably let people use it.”
Yet a CMS document made public by the same committee last week tells a different story. The agency and one of its subsidiaries, the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, was working with government contractors on the website. It determined the Anonymous Shopper feature “tested successfully,” revealed “no high severity defects open” and that “remaining lower severity defects will not degrade consumer experience.” …
The source close to the project, however, said the anonymous shopper function did pass testing conducted in the weeks ahead of the HealthCare.gov launch.
First, let’s point out the laughably absurd proposal that HHS found any function within Healthcare.gov to have “failed so miserably that we could not conscionably let people use it.” Isn’t that a good description of the entire site? That would seem especially true considering Chao’s later testimony that up to 40% of the system was missing altogether.
But the falsehood goes farther than that:
The successful test occurred on September 17, according to a source familiar with the project. The next day, in an internal e-mail obtained by CNN, Chao wrote the shopper function “isn’t needed and thus should be removed.”
So HHS knew it had passed the testing, but Chao pulled it because “it wasn’t needed,” not because it “failed so miserably,” etc. That looks like a pretty classic case of either perjury or obstruction of Congress. That seems to be a running theme this year in the Obama administration.