The House’s top investigators want to know if the Obama administration made a political decision to get rid of an online tool that would have allowed uninsured Americans to comparison-shop among private health plans on the federal Obamacare website before registering for an account.
Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote to the administration’s top information technology officers on Tuesday to demand answers about the purported maneuver.
They cited committee briefings with CGI Federal — the lead contractor on HealthCare.gov, which channels Obamacare traffic from three dozen states — as the catalyst for their suspicions.
“Although CGI officials were not able to identify who within the administration made the decision to disable the anonymous shopping feature, evidence is mounting that political considerations motivated the decision,” Mr. Issa and four other committee Republicans said in their letter to U.S. Chief Information Officer Steve VanRoekel and Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.
CGI inked a five-year contract worth nearly $94 million with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the chief agency in charge of implementing the health care law, the letter said.
Early on, CGI officials aired concerns about the readiness of the online portals in a briefing with the oversight committee.
They also said that CMS staff would regularly say things like, “This is what the White House wants,” raising the specter of politically-motivated decisions, according to the GOP lawmakers.
A Wall Street Journal article cited in the House letter said the administration wanted to make sure that users were aware of any subsidies they qualified for — before they got a look at the prices of various health policies.
Mr. Issa’s letter suggested the register-first model caused the site to jam up.
“Many IT experts have suggested that the decision to disable the anonymous shopping feature contributed to the failure of healthcare.gov on October 1, 2013, and in the weeks that have followed,” the lawmakers said in their letter.
A spokesperson for CMS could not immediately be reached for comment on the GOP members’ inquiry.
The rocky rollout of the insurance portals tied to Obamacare has been a serious headache for an administration that is hoping about 7 million people obtain coverage during an open enrollment period that lasts until March 31.
President Obama delivered a remarkable mea culpa at the White House on Monday, saying his administration is working around the clock to fix the “kinks” and that no one is madder than he is about the problems associated with his key legacy item.
Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, are piling on criticism of the system and the law as a whole, which they never liked, anyway.
Additionally, some on Capitol Hill have called for the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is overseeing the rollout of the health law.