Oversight Leaders Investigating HealthCare.gov Development, Decision to Hide Premium Prices

Published: Oct 22, 2013

Decision to Hide Prices from Shoppers was Made One Month Before Launch, Contractors Tell Oversight Committee

WASHINGTON – Leaders on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are seeking answers from the Obama Administration’s top technology officials about the development of the problem-plagued federal insurance exchange website, HealthCare.gov, in a letter announced today. Information obtained by the Committee indicates that, just one month before the website’s launch, the Administration directed contractors to change the site’s design to hide price comparisons from unregistered shoppers.

“Given the information gathered by the Committee thus far, we are concerned that the Administration required contractors to change course late in the implementation process to conceal ObamaCare’s effect on increasing health insurance premiums,” the letter to Steve VanRoekel, the Chief Information Officer, and Todd Park, the Chief Technology Officer, at the White House Office of Management and Budget, states. “We believe that the political decision to mask the ‘sticker shock’ of ObamaCare to the American people prevented contractors from using universally accepted and OMB-advocated IT ‘best practices’ in the development and roll out of this massive federal government IT project. When prudent design and programming decisions are subordinated to politics, the result is the chaotic mess we have today.”

The letter, signed by Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Subcommittee Chairmen John Mica, R-Fla., James Lankford, R-Okla., Jim Jordan, R-Ohio and Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, cites January 9, 2013 and October 16, 2013 briefings with CGI Federal Inc., one of the major contractors tasked with building the federal health insurance exchange website.

“CGI officials told Committee staff that CMS officials and employees constantly mentioned the ‘White House’ when discussing matters with CGI.  For example, CMS officials would routinely state: ‘this is what the White House wants,’” the letter continues. “Moreover, CGI officials told Committee staff that the ability to shop for health insurance without registering for an account – a central design feature of the health insurance exchange – was removed ‘in late August or early September.’”

“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,” the letter finds.

The Committee has longstanding legislative jurisdiction over federal information technology (IT) acquisition. Most recently, the Committee released a June 2013 staff report on flawed contracting processes for IT purchases at the IRS. The Committee has also sent several letters to Health and Human Services’ Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about contracting practices at HHS and HHS’s role in ObamaCare implementation. In September 2013, the Committee issued a staff report detailing the security risks posed by the Administration’s extralegal Navigator and Assister outreach campaign.

You can read a copy of the letter here.