Did a Top Obamacare Tech Official Mislead Congress About the Decision to Delay Obamacare's Shopping Feature?

Did 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,

He responded that there were “none whatsoever.”

“I look at the facts of whether—if a system is going to be
ready,” Chao
, “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

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 perhaps 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
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.

from Hit & Run http://reason.com/blog/2013/11/22/did-a-top-obamacare-tech-official-mislea

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