WASHINGTON — An Obama administration technology expert who worked closely on the development of the federal health insurance marketplace told a congressional panel Tuesday that he was never privy to an independent report in March that warned of potential problems with the project — even though many of his colleagues and White House staffers were.
Henry Chao, deputy chief information officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told House Energy and Commerce Committee members that even though he was interviewed for the report by McKinsey & Co., he saw its analysis for the first time Tuesday morning after the committee had provided a copy to the Washington Post.
The report, based on interviews with contractors and administration officials working on the project, highlighted possible security and organizational structure problems in the development of the insurance marketplace and its portal, HealthCare.gov.
In his testimony before the commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, Chao also said that upward of 30 percent of the insurance marketplace website hasn't even been built yet, including the systems for providing consumer subsidies to insurers. But Julie Bataille, the communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said that part of the system won't be needed until mid-January and that work is on track to have it completed by then.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama on Tuesday continued to offer apologies for the administrative and political havoc that the botched rollout of the website has created.
“I think we probably underestimated the complexities of building out a website that needed to work the way it should,” he told the annual meeting of the Wall Street Journal CEO Council.
He also said he underestimated the effect that the polarized political environment would play, with few not in his own party supporting the effort.
“We should have anticipated that that would create a rockier rollout than if Democrats and Republicans were both invested in success,” Obama said.
McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm, presented its report on problems in the website's development in separate briefings between March 28 and April 8 to at least 15 administration officials. They included Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; and Obama health policy adviser Jeanne Lambrew.
The analysis noted the administration's scattergun approach in developing the goals and requirements for the marketplace project, as well as the lack of a central leader who could make decisions and set measurable yardsticks for success. The report said contractors were getting conflicting directives from different people within the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Committee member Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., said the report proves that people in the White House knew about problems well in advance of the disastrous Oct. 1 launch of open enrollment on HealthCare.gov.
“Either President Obama didn't know about it, in which case people directly under him knew that this thing was going to be a disaster and just didn't tell him,” Scalise said, “or the president did know about it” and should “go and fire every single one of those people right now and hold them accountable.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama was briefed on the McKinsey report and was told that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Department of Health and Human Services were implementing its recommendations.
“The review recommended certain proactive steps to mitigate risks, and those recommendations were acted upon,” Carney said at his daily White House press briefing.