The launch of HealthCare.gov has been described by many as a “train wreck.” On Capitol Hill, Congress continues to demand regular updates regarding the website’s status from the Obama administration and government officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in order to understand what happened, who was responsible, and how the country can move forward. In a House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations hearing on Thursday, January 16, entitled, “2014: Seeking PPACA Answers,” witness Gary Cohen became the latest occupant of the subcommittee’s hot seat in an effort to learn more about the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov. Cohen is the Director of the Center for Consumer Information and Oversight – the HHS agency responsible for the implementation of ObamaCare provisions related to private health insurance.
During the hearing, Cohen’s previous testimonies to the subcommittee in both April and September of 2013 were called into question, as they pose a stark contrast to the execution of the ObamaCare launch, which occurred on October 1, 2013. Chairman of the subcommittee, Tim Murphy (R-PA), began by quoting Cohen in his appearances before the subcommittee prior to the launch of Healthcare.gov. In April of 2013, Cohen went on the record saying, “We are on schedule and on track with the IT build [for HealthCare.gov].” Then, just a few weeks before the website’s faulty launch in September of 2013, Cohen testified, “Consumers will be able to go online, they will be able to look at the plans that are available where they live, they will be able to see the premium net of subsidy that they would have to pay, and they will be able to choose a plan and get enrolled in coverage beginning October 1.”
The reality of HealthCare.gov’s disastrous launch and the subsequent frenzied implementation of ObamaCare’s individual mandates tell a very different story. For more than a month, consumers were unable to go online, peruse health plans, or even look to see if they qualified for subsidies – among other problems. Despite warnings from one consulting firm that cautioned Cohen and his team to heed notice of the risks associated with a premature launch, Healthcare.gov was recklessly given the go-ahead anyway. So, why did Cohen or some other HHS official not tell Congress about HealthCare.gov’s problems? The verdict is still out.
Cohen could provide few clear answers, often responding, “I don’t know,” to a number of basic questions – like where money will come from for risk adjustments or if HHS will be able to provide the subcommittee with additional information (such as legal memorandums) for review. Adding more fuel to the fire, the subcommittee also learned that the part of the website dealing with payments is “still being built.” This stunning revelation solidifies the widespread concerns surrounding the ObamaCare exchanges – especially given that a crucial element of the marketplace payment system has not even been constructed.
While Democrats and government officials, many of whom have a vested political interest in ensuring that the President’s signature legislative achievement succeed, continue to assert that HealthCare.gov is functioning properly, reports from those who have attempted to navigate the convoluted waters of HealthCare.gov have yet to put the American people – or Congress – at ease. Even more, news that personal information may be vulnerable to hackers, fraud, and exploitation once again suggest that the government has not conducted thorough testing of the website.
According to Representative Michael Burgess (R-TX), “Errors, cancelled plans, and broken promise – those are just the start.” The failed launch of HealthCare.gov and the repeated need to delay pivotal parts of the law indicate that ObamaCare is broken beyond repair. Millions of Americans remain concerned with how ObamaCare will affect them personally, making it unacceptable for the White House, HHS, and others to shift blame and dismiss their role in the debacle. Recognizing the significant bearing the future of the American health care system has on mature Americans, AMAC continues to closely monitor the status of Healthcare.gov and the ObamaCare exchanges. As the fastest growing conservative seniors organization in the country, health care remains a top advocacy priority, and we will continue to support free-market solutions to this government-first problem.