Did a Top Obamacare Tech Official Mislead Congress About the Decision Not to Implement Obamacare's Shopping Feature?

CSPANCSPANDid a top Obamacare tech official lie to Congress about whether or not a key Obamacare website function was delayed for political considerations?

In a congressional hearing earlier this month, Henry Chao, the Deputy IT director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, was asked whether there were any political considerations involved in the last-minute decision to delay the “anonymous shopper” function at Obamacare’s online insurance portal, Healthcare.gov.

He responded that there were “none whatsoever.”

“I look at the facts of whether—if a system is going to be ready,” Chao said, “and of course not everything is going to be 100 percent perfect, and there are certain tolerances. But in this case it failed so miserably that we could not consciously use it.”

But that’s not what happened, according to CNN, which reports that insider documents confirm that, in fact, the feature passed a test of its functionality shortly before the October 1 launch of Healthcare.gov. From CNN's report: 

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.

Perhaps the CNN story is missing some key information. We don’t know, for example, if there was another test that did fail—one that convinced the health site’s tech team that the function wasn’t worth implementing.

But there’s some reason to think that CNN’s story is not incomplete, and that Chao, in his response, did not tell the truth. The CNN report backs up, and seems to confirm, an October report in The Wall Street Journal, which said that the federally run insurance portal “was initially going to include an option to browse before registering, but that tool was delayed.” The Journal report included an explanation for why the function was removed—an explanation that said nothing about technical failures. “An HHS spokeswoman said the agency wanted to ensure that users were aware of their eligibility for subsidies that could help pay for coverage, before they started seeing the prices of policies.”

In other words, officials didn’t want people to see the true price of the insurance premiums on offer through the exchanges, so they created a system which only allowed for plan shopping after subsidy eligibility was confirmed. 

That doesn’t sound like it was simply a question of system readiness, as Chao claimed before Congress. And if Chao lied about the test results, it’s reasonable to wonder whether he also misled about the reasoning for disabling the feature.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • AustinRoth||

    We don’t know, for example, if there was another test that did fail

    What test could it fail that would make it worse than what was launched October 1??

  • Auric Demonocles||

    It could have accidentally launched missiles.

  • Almanian!||

    Do. You. Want. To. Play. A. Game.

    "West World - Where Nothing Can Go Worgng..."

  • Swiss Servator, kirsch anyone?||

    "West Wing World"?

  • thom||

    "West Wing World"?

    Where Michelle always says yes...

  • fish_remote||

    They couldn't have even managed this....!

  • Almanian!||

    A blood test? A Turing test? A g-load test? A driver's ed test? A pregnancy test? A drug test? A test of valor?

    I dunno.

  • fish_remote||

    Libertarian purity test....

  • alexisaudrey||

    my classmate's step-sister makes $83/hr on the computer. She has been fired for nine months but last month her payment was $14664 just working on the computer for a few hours. go.....W­W­W.D­U­B­3­0.C­O­M

  • plusafdotcom||

  • plusafdotcom||

  • plusafdotcom||

  • wareagle||

    But there’s some reason to think that....Chao.... did not tell the truth.

    that reason is that he works for this administration, the one turning into Nixon into Honest Abe with a five o'clock shadow.

  • ||

    At this point, what does it matter what these people say?

  • Almanian!||

    great minds and all that...

  • Almanian!||

    1) What difference, at this point, does it make?

    2) An Obama administration government employee lied? I am disappoint shocked.

    3) You know who else misled others about their intentions...

  • fish_remote||

    3) You know who else misled others about their intentions...

    My ex wife!

  • Sevo||

    His ex wife!

  • fish_remote||

    SLANDER................!

  • fish_remote||

    no....not really.

  • some guy||

    In print, it's libel.

  • fish_remote||

    Verbally or in print.....bitch.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Nice alt-text, Pistol.

  • ||

    I love the smell of schadenfreude in the morning.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Wait, is that Chin Ho?

  • fish_remote||

    No...that's Kam Fong. Surprised you didn't know that.

  • Brutus||

    Hop Sing

  • Almanian!||

    Oh, so all zips look alike?

    LACIST!

  • fish_remote||

    -1 Hawaii 5-0 trivia

  • Almanian!||

    Oh, berieve me, I know that Kam Fong is Chin Ho. I grew up on the orig. "Book 'em, Danno!" and all that.

    I just couldn't berieve the LACISM here.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Racism? Look, I was a big Magnum P.I. fan. Magnum P.I. was the CBS sequel to Hawaii Five-O (yes, it was. McGarrett was referred to as governor of Hawaii in a Magnum episode).

    I also liked the old theme song.

  • ||

    Look, I was a big Magnum P.I. fan.

    It's OK Pro L, who can say no to Tom Selleck with that mustache and those shorts?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Oddly, what you're suggesting never even occurred to me in those simpler times, when men could wear shorts and be friends. All before Top Gun.

  • Almanian!||

    Tom Selleck really IS dreamy...

    My fave is "Quigley Down Under"...down under INDEED...

  • ||

    I watched a lot of Magnum P.I. when I was young. It may well have been my Golden Girls.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Ah, so you view Magnum as a gateway program?

  • ||

    I don't know how one can argue it isn't. Look what happened to Tom Selleck after doing the show (relevant video at 1:10).

  • Pro Libertate||

    Did you like that movie? I wasn't getting all the praise. He was good in it, though.

  • ||

    I was 14 when that movie came out, growing up in an evangelical bubble. It was an interesting point of exposure to gay people, and I watched it guiltily on cable flipping channels whenever someone from my family walking down the hall. Selleck was solid in it, Kline characteristically overacted it, but it wasn't a "good" movie, but it was the right movie for the time.

  • Pro Libertate||

    To be sure, I loved Kline in A Fish Called Wanda. He deserved and shockingly received an Oscar for that performance.

  • ||

    Kline is fun to watch. I'm just not sure why.

  • Pro Libertate||

    He's best unleashed in roles that permit unleashing.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    My fave is "Quigley Down Under"

    That's a good one (especially Alan Rickman doing his Sheriff of Nottingham role in a western costume), and "An Innocent Man" I recall being a fun little piece of pulp. I think David Raschke played one of the corrupt cops.

  • Jordan||

    The fact that this insecure piece of crap was ever allowed to go live is grounds enough to fire everyone involved in it.

  • fish_remote||

    What kills me is that if they had delayed.....everyone would have won! President Hollow Chocolate Bunny isn't forced to look the fool because he picked the stupid kids to do his homework. Orange Julius wins because he gets to tell the world that he got the delay everybody was screaming for. The developers win because they get another year to work on this piece of shit!

    Morons.....all morons!

  • Jordan||

    Hey, but those 5 people who have signed up for a cheaper policy would have lost. And maybe Chad Henderson.

  • rts||

    5 people? I have it on good authority that it has probably saved millions of lives.

    You be illin'.

  • BakedPenguin||

    That's some deaf comedy right there.

  • rts||

    Whatever President Obama stands for, they [Republicans] stand for the opposite.

    Fry: Uh, just so we'll know, who's the enemy?

    Captain Zapp Brannigan: A valid question! We know nothing about them, their language, their history or what they look like. But we can assume this. They stand for everything we don't stand for. Also they told me you guys look like dorks.

    Bender: They look like dorks!

  • Sevo||

    At least a hundred millions in 57 states have signed up to be saved!

  • Auric Demonocles||

    But then Obama would have had to agree with the evil Rethuglicans about something. Fuck that!

  • Sevo||

    "But then Obama would have had to agree with the evil Rethuglicans about something. Fuck that!"

    Somebody here linked a WaPo piece several weeks ago. It was a 'tell all' of the development from an admin-staffer POV.
    What stood out is how many decisions were purely cynical political choices which merely tried to make the GOPers look bad rather than make the damn thing work.
    Like the old story that winning isn't good enough; someone has to lose, this is worse. We'll give up a win to make the others look bad.

  • John||

    It is all Obama knows. He is a political activist. The only thought he ever has is how to fuck the other side. He thinks the world works by magic and all he has to do is say the words and things will work. So he focuses all his efforts on making war against the other side. It henceforth occurs to him that when you are in charge it does you no good to just take shit down

  • robc||

    He truly is an Ayn Rand character. When Galt keeps asking how to make things work, they would keep saying "You are smart, you can make it work."

    Thats how Obama thinks the world works.

    Thats how wonks think engineering works in general.

  • John||

    During the Syrian crisis he would get bored and read his blackberry and surf the net during intel briefings. When they told him the website wasn't working last spring he just said handle it and went back to watching ESPN. He seems to the maturity of a middle school child. It is really terrifying to think this asshole has his finger on the button. As things go from bad to worse what happens if he totally checks out and just becomes delusional? Will Valerie Jerret and Michelle do with him what Wilson's wife did after his stroke?

  • robc||

    Most presidents age horribly in office. Part of it is the age they are when elected, its that point in life where they get old quicker, but part is obviously the stress.

    I havent seen it happening with Obama. I think he found the way to avoid the stress, which is to not do the job.

  • John||

    The Jerett statement that he has been bored his whole life is really telling. No one is so smart they are bored by everything. I believe her when she says that. But it doesn't mean he is smart. It means he for whatever reason can't comprehend reality in all it's complexity and thus is bored by the cartoon cutouts he thinks make up the world. That is really scary when you think about it.

  • some guy||

    No one is so smart they are bored by everything.

    If you aren't smart enough to keep yourself entertained then you aren't very smart.

  • John||

    Exactly some guy. Obama is stupid and doesn't understand many things but hides it by pretending to be bored. I really don't think he is very smart.

  • some guy||

    I knew a guy in high school who was really smart, but hid it by actually not giving a shit. I'd rather have him as President.

  • ||

    "Did you know aluminum isn't magnetic?" - B.O.

    WTF planet did he grow up on that refrigerator magnets and Coke cans didn't exist? I think my 4 yr. old learned this before he did.

  • JWatts||

    My two and half year old daughter learned this last week, as she tried to move a Magnet from the side of the refrigerator to the front door (made of aluminum). To be fair she might not have grasped the concept fully at this point.

  • seguin||

    I had to look that up, mad.casual. Holy crap, he's incredibly ignorant. How do you not know that?

  • fish_remote||

    The Jerett statement that he has been bored his whole life is really telling. No one is so smart they are bored by everything.

    She's confusing bored with sullen. When he's not the center of adoration or on the receiving end of criticism he exudes a teenagers "to cool for school" sullen demeanor!

  • some guy||

    havent seen it happening with Obama. I think he found the way to avoid the stress, which is to not do the job.

    Nah. Obama was pretty young coming into office, so he hasn't hit that rapid aging yet. Also, he's plenty stressed. It comes from his concern about his power and legacy, though, not from responsibility associated with being the most powerful person ever.

  • DarrenM||

    During the Syrian crisis he would get bored and read his blackberry and surf the net during intel briefings.

    Are you sure he wasn't playing Angry Birds?

  • some guy||

    Thats how wonks think engineering works in general.

    "If I can conceive it, you can create it, right."

    Question mark deliberately omitted.

  • robc||

    "If I can conceive it, you can create it, right."

    I probably can. But not in the time frame or for the cost that you require.

    There is a reason that it takes the government to do something like the Manhattan Project. No one else would waste the time, energy and money on it.

  • some guy||

    But not in the time frame or for the cost

    This is government we're talking about, so both are indefinitely flexible.

  • robc||

    Nah, they would release it on some preset date for political reasons.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Of course. This is the product of stupidly voting machine politicians into office. It's all they know.

  • Almanian!||

    President Hollow Chocolate Bunny

    Oh, I like and will steal that...

  • ||

    I hate it when the Chocolate Bunny turns out to be hollow. I feel so cheated. Unless it turns out he's filled with M&Ms;, in which case it's ok.

    Do you think Obama is full of M&Ms;?

  • Swiss Servator, kirsch anyone?||

    Would Joe Biden shake him to find out?

  • fish_remote||

    Do you think Obama is full of M&Ms;?

    Nope....!

    My whole thesis is that he's cute appealing and sweet on the outside with this shell surrounding a hollow empty chamber that gives his public speaking voice the deep base presence that makes the empty headed swoon.

    It also reveals that inside Barry O is completely devoid of any real substance at all.

  • John||

    He has substance it is just bitter and hateful.

  • some guy||

    He has substance it is just bitter and hateful.

    It's like someone took pure 100% cocoa and added baking soda instead of sugar.

  • Gadianton||

    So he's filled with Brussels Sprouts?

  • Redmanfms||

    So he's filled with Brussels Sprouts?

    He's like the bile-filled chocolate always left in the box of Russell Stover's.

  • Swiss Servator, kirsch anyone?||

    Russell Stover's "Secretion Assortment"?

  • wadair||

    He's full of something, that's for sure.

  • 0x90||

    That gives me a great idea: there should be a law that requires employers to refer to wages purely in terms of post-withholdings numbers, and which also requires that pre-withholdings numbers not be reported to the worker in any way.

    Think of the benefits to this, both fiscal and psychological: we would not change the minimum wage, which means that effectively, everyone gets an instant real-wage raise, and workers no longer have those two numbers staring back at them from their paychecks, the "false" wage they think they get, and the wage they really do get.

    It would make everyone richer, and happier -- everybody wins!

  • So Conz Esq.||

    Truth in Taxing. The CFPB will get right on it, never.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    In some discussions with Europeans about the way sales tax is displayed, they think their method is more honest because you see what your final price will be. I maintain that the US standard of showing the price without tax is more honest.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I like the way NH, OR, DE & MT do their sales taxes.

  • robc||

    None at all, I assume?

  • BakedPenguin||

    Exactly. Truth in advertising.

  • Redmanfms||

    In some discussions with Europeans about the way sales tax is displayed, they think their method is more honest because you see what your final price will be. I maintain that the US standard of showing the price without tax is more honest.

    As do I.

    I can sort of see why they complain though, because while you won't be surprised the next time you purchase something (or you won't be unless you aren't stupid), you don't know what the rate will be from place to place. It might 3.5 percent one place and 5 percent just a mile up the road. When I travel I just assume it is 10 percent and work from there. It would be kind of nice if stores posted sales tax rates, though I believe (not certain) that is actually forbidden in most places.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    ...we would not change the minimum wage, which means that effectively, everyone gets an instant real-wage raise,...

    Wha? How does reporting your takehome pay increase your real wage? Or do you mean that the takehome pay has to be the quoted wage?

    I have a better law: make the minimum wage age sensitive. If you're over 21 (maybe 18) --the theoretical age at which you're supporting a family-- with a minimum wage job then the minimum wage is higher. If you're a teenager at a part time job then it's unchanged. Since we're told that there's no impact on (un)employment by raising a minimum wage, and the excuse given for raising it is so adults can live, then this addresses all of the needs, doesn't it?

  • 0x90||

    Wha? How does reporting your takehome pay increase your real wage? Or do you mean that the takehome pay has to be the quoted wage?

    The latter: we literally outlaw any reference to the "real" wage. If employers are barred from referring to that number, but are still required to pay the minimum wage, we effect a rise in the minimum wage, without legislating one. And think of the knock-on effects: by decoupling the perceived wage from the actual level of witholding, we avoid the pain, amongst voters, associated with new taxes. The difference is simply absorbed by the employer, which is no problem, since they have so much money.

  • robc||

    The stupid. It burns.

  • 0x90||

    I would've thought that last line should've been a dead giveaway.

  • So Conz Esq.||

    you could find the highass premiums through a back door, so it was functional. these people lie like teenagers. every decision they make is political, which is a shitty way to practice medicine, and a good reason to keep them away from it.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    He gave the least truthful answer he could.

  • some guy||

    That's sugar-coating it.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    In other words, officials didn’t want people to see the true price of the insurance premiums on offer through the exchanges

    They were afraid the site would crash from the flood of applications if people could see what a screaming deal this is.

  • Sevo||

    And then they couldn't accuse the rethugs of DDOS attacks.

  • Ayn Random Variation||

    Someone at my job accused the repubs of sabotage yesterday after a mtg with our CEO where he bashed obamacare. I work in the finance group at a hospital.

  • Sevo||

    I hope this isn't someone whose judgement is required for the successful function of the hospital.

  • R C Dean||

    Was he under oath? If not, why not?

    Why does any government official get to testify to Congress without being put under oath?

  • some guy||

    What's the point? Even under oath they lie all the time and there are no consequences. Putting them under oath is a lie, in and of itself.

  • R C Dean||

    Oath is step one.

    Step two is allowing any Congressmember to initiate a perjury prosecution. No vote: Congressmember informs the DOJ of the substance of the alleged perjury.

    Step three, of course, is reforming DOJ so that it actually gives a shit. That's probably the hardest.

  • G3||

    I'm no member of the 'aluminum hat society', but the implementation of this legislation has been so blatantly political that it stinks worse than fish heating in a microwave. ...Period.

  • itsnotmeitsyou||

    I see what you did there... and ew.

  • reardensteel||

    This administration doesn't want anyone to see the true price or nature of anything it does.
    Because, you know, people are so dumb they wouldn't support what the administration is doing, if everything were transparent.

  • Michael Hihn||

    Will we ever get beyond conspiracy theories? If I was an Obamacare supporter, I'd want people's first look at prices to include their net costs ... which is the whole point. duh.

    To breathlessly conclude that a deliberate attempt to hide the real prices -- which should be expected -- is proof of a sinister plot by the communists.

    If YOU were an Obamacare supporter, and you knew the premium would be $300 for a minimum-wage worker, less a $225 subsidy, would YOU show him the $300 first? Th entire point is that he can get insured for $75, no?

    This is why we lose.
    1) Never had a credible alternative
    2) Wacky claims of a "special exemption" for Congress and their staff.

  • alexisaudrey||

    my classmate's step-sister makes $83/hr on the computer. She has been fired for nine months but last month her payment was $14664 just working on the computer for a few hours. go.....W­W­W.D­U­B­3­0.C­O­M

  • alexisaudrey||

    my classmate's step-sister makes $83/hr on the computer. She has been fired for nine months but last month her payment was $14664 just working on the computer for a few hours. go.....W­W­W.D­U­B­3­0.C­O­M

  • robynana||

    my friend's half-sister makes $64 an hour on the internet. She has been laid off for five months but last month her pay check was $13540 just working on the internet for a few hours. browse around this web-site ...................................
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    http://www.FB49.com
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

  • Joe Clave||

    It failed miserably to be politically appealing.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement