The Obama administration knew in advance that Obamacare’s online small business (SHOP) exchanges would not be ready by deadline and agreed to delay part of the website as early as August, according to emails obtained by House Energy and Commerce Committee investigators.
The Committee accused Obama administration officials of misleading Congress about the website’s progress.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) officials and Obamacare website contractor CGI Federal secretly agreed that the SHOP program would have to be delayed more than a month before the administration told the American public that the program would still be ready on time.
CMS and CGI Federal agreed on Aug. 13 that SHOP would not be ready and would have to be delayed until Nov. 15. The administration then waited a month before announcing on Sept. 26 that “The SHOP Marketplace for Federally-facilitated Marketplace states opens Oct. 1, 2013, when small employers can start the application process and get an overview of available plans and premiums in their area. All functions for SHOP will be available in November and if employers and employees enroll by Dec. 15, 2013, coverage will begin Jan. 1, 2014.”
The administration’s announcement came just one week before employers were set to begin using SHOP. On Nov. 27, President Obama finally delayed the glitch-ridden SHOP exchanges by one year.
The emails paint a picture of an administration desperate to avoid public embarrassment and unwilling to delay launch deadlines, despite glaring flaws with the website.
“I’ve escalated your concerns regarding the SHOP Employee application not being completed until 10/15/13,” CMS official Jo-Ann Webber emailed on July 26, indicating that the administration knew that SHOP would not be completed until more than two weeks after its scheduled launch date.
“I am not recommending delay of the employer application,” fellow CMS official Dean Mohs replied to Webber.
“Guys, this is absolutely urgent and I need an answer on this today. If this is late we have to public[ly] announce we are late with a deliverable which means Marilyn Tavenner and the Secretary will have to announce,” CMS official Monique Outerbridge said on Aug. 6.
Nevertheless, CGI Federal presented its plan to roll out SHOP on deadline, and CMS official Henry Chao asked, “Can we sign this [plan] in blood?”
Congressional investigators see this as evidence that the Obama administration concealed its knowledge about the website’s failures from the American people – until it was too late.
“As the paper trail broadens, we see more and more evidence that the administration was fully aware its signature health care law was not ready for prime time,” said Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
“The documents we are now reviewing tell a much, much different story than what officials testified to Congress. While it’s not clear if any ‘blood oath’ was taken, the president’s top lieutenants repeatedly looked us in the eye, insisting that they were ‘on track’ when they knew looming deadlines would be impossible to meet. These are not the characteristics of the ‘most transparent administration in history,’” Upton said.
“Secretary Sebelius must come prepared next week to provide answers about what January 1 and beyond will really look like,” Upton added.
“As President Obama embarks on his latest PR push to try and salvage his signature legislation, we’re finding more evidence that the administration was painfully aware the work would not be complete by October 1,” said Committee member Rep. Tim Murphy, who heads the Health and Energy oversight and investigations subcommittee.