Oversight: Did ‘political considerations’ lead to last minute HealthCare.gov changes?

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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating concerns that the Obama administration directed contractors to hide price comparisons from unregistered users a month prior to the Obamacare exchange launch.

Citing their authority to conduct oversight of federal acquisitions, leaders on the House Oversight Committee requested answers Monday from Obama’s senior tech officials, about the administration’s participation in the development of the HealthCare.gov.

“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,” committee leaders wrote in a letter to Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.

“We believe that the political decision to mask the ‘sticker shock’ of ObamaCare to the American people prevented contractors from using universally accepted and [Office of Management and Budget]-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 continued.

The letter cites Jan. 9 and Oct. 16 briefings with officials from CGI Federal, the primary contractor in the construction of HealthCare.gov. During the second briefing the committee leaders say that the contractor officials provided details to committee staff about how heavily the White House’s desired weighed on the decision making.

“CGI officials told Committee staff that Centers for [Medicare and Medicaid Services] 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 explains.

“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,'” the notice, signed by Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, and Subcommittee Chairmen John Mica of Florida, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Ohio’s Jim Jordan, and Texas’ Black Farenthold, read.

The signatories call on the VanRoekel and Park to brief the committee by Oct. 27 about the Office of Management and Budget’s role in HealthCare.gov and to provide the committee with documents related to the administration’s participation with HealthCare.gov.

According to the leaders, “evidence is mounting that political considerations motivated the decision” to “disable the anonymous shopping feature.”

With glitches plaguing HealthCare.gov, however, the administration recently added a new feature to the Web portal to allow consumers to “window shop” plans, including comparing premiums.

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