- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2014

Senate Republicans will shine a spotlight on Obamacare’s early stumbles Thursday with a report that divulges new details about warning signs that surfaced before HealthCare.gov’s failed launch.

The report collects congressional testimony and inter-agency emails to portray the Obama administration as rudderless and ignorant of red flags raised by outside experts and auditors who scrutinized the federal website that linked consumers in 36 states with private health plans.

“Both metaphorically and factually, the website was designed to be the public face of President Obama’s signature achievement,” the report says. “However, the Obama administration failed to task any one individual or entity within [the Health and Human Services Department] or [the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services] with ensuring the success of the public face of Obamacare.”

Limited testing and warnings from McKinsey and Company’s consultants are well-documented parts of theHealthCare.gov narrative, but the new report reveals that auditors from TurningPoint Global Solutions studied the project from September 2012 to September 2013 and found “technical and managerial concerns that ultimately were key factors in the failure of the website.”

The report says a small group of officials at CMS read TurningPoint’s concerns about the project’s cloud computing capabilities and poor communication among project managers, yet did not report them up to senior leadership.

As late as September — weeks before the website’s launch — TurningPoint said there were more than 500 “critical” flaws in the portal’s code, according to the Republicans’ timeline of events.

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Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, respectively the ranking member and former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, plan to release the document Thursday, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.

Aides said there was no specific reason for the timing of the release, other than the report’s completion.

“The Administration looked the other way on problems, even when the independent contractor hired to monitor the project was waving red flags, pointing to likely failure,” Mr. Grassley said. “This website wasn’t a ‘Field of Dreams’ fantasy where you hope for the best and everything works out because it’s a movie. This involved taxpayer money and website users who wasted their time on something that wasn’t working.”

The Obama administration has taken responsibility for the flawed rollout of the federal portal. Since then, the White House has pointed to the millions of customers who gained insurance after a full-court press to save the federal website late last year.

Administration officials say they’re learning from past mistakes as they prepare for the 2015 enrollment period this fall.

“It’s well known that we faced challenges during the launch of healthcare.gov,” CMS spokesman Aaron Albright said. “As it has been widely reported, we didn’t anticipate the levels of difficulty that we ultimately faced. We immediately worked to fix the issues and developed new management processes, and exceeded many independent predictions with more than 8 million consumers signing up for private insurance coverage.”

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HealthCare.gov served states that did not set up their own marketplaces for the overhaul’s first enrollment period from September to mid-April.

The website crashed after its launch due to capacity and software glitches, prompting a tech-rescue effort that lasted until early December.

Its early fumbles belied the White House’s promises the website would be as easy to use as Amazon.com.

“Right up until the night before the launch, officials, including [former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius], repeatedly touted that the website would enable users to obtain health insurance quickly and easily,” the Republican report says. “Nevertheless, the breakdown was not a surprise to dozens of high level officials within CMS and HHS, nor to hundreds of individuals working for the contractors who had developed the code for the website.”

As of February 2014, the administration had spent $834 million on developing the website, and will spend more to support the federal marketplace in fiscal 2014, according to the report.

“This is a staggering amount of taxpayer funds to enroll a few million people,” it says. “In addition to the waste and inefficiency, the people forced to use the website had to waste time and effort dealing with a dysfunctional system.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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