Report: White House Knew About ACA Website Problems Before Launch

Thursday, 19 Jun 2014 03:40 PM

By Andrea Billups

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A new report released by Senate Republicans offers evidence that the Obama administration knew there were problems with its healthcare.gov website and did not heed warnings by experts about potential problems before its disastrous rollout.

“Both metaphorically and factually, the website was designed to be the public face of President Obama’s signature achievement,” the report from the Senate Finance Committee says, according to The Washington Times, which obtained a copy of the document before its Thursday release.

“However, the Obama administration failed to task any one individual or entity within HHS [the Health and Human Services Department] or CMS [the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services] with ensuring the success of the public face of Obamacare,” notes the report, which paints a disconnected portrait of website's initial launch as consumers in 36 states attempted to find new healthcare plans.

The Obama administration has noted that it is responsible for the botched website and has attempted to improve it as a new wave of consumers will likely use it when the 2015 enrollment period returns this fall. The problems, however, are likely to be used by Republicans in midterm elections gearing up this year as Democrats are forced to defend it.

A Gallup poll released in May found more than half of Americans remained against Obamacare, which has also tanked the president's own poll numbers.

The Senate report was described as "damaging" by The Washington Examiner, which noted that the administration pressured the website launch even as it had information that it was not ready, an attempt to cement the president's legacy of a national health insurance program.

“The White House continually meddled in technical decisions and put pressure on CMS officials to launch the website on time, regardless of operability and security concerns," the report noted. "As a result, officials ignored countless red flags to launch a website with thousands of defects. In the end, the launch failed miserably, crashing on takeoff."

Outside auditors from TurningPoint Global Solutions, tasked with reviewing the website in 2012 to 2013, found problems, described as "technical and managerial" that ultimately sunk the rollout, the report notes. Just weeks before the launch, the IT contractor cited 500 code flaws that were labeled as "critical."

The report says both CMS and the contractor failed to pass information about communication problems and cloud computing issues to senior managers of the project.

"CMS managers clearly understood the extent of the risks to the system, but chose to launch anyway," the report said.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah along with Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, its ranking member, released the report jointly Thursday.

Grassley called the administration's handling of the website wasteful of taxpayer money as it meddled in the rollout and pushed its release for political gain, The Hill reported.

"The administration looked the other way on problems, even when the independent contractor hired to monitor the project was waving red flags, pointing to likely failure,"Grassley said. "This website wasn't a 'Field of Dreams' fantasy where you hope for the best and everything works out because it's a movie. This involved taxpayer money and website users who wasted their time on something that wasn't working."

CMS defended its efforts to fix the problems.

"It's well known that we faced challenges during the launch of HealthCare.gov," CMS spokesman Aaron Albright said in a statement.

"We immediately worked to fix the issues and developed new management processes, and exceeded many independent predictions with more than 8 million consumers signing up for private insurance coverage."

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