Senators’ Report Sheds New Light on HHS’ Botched HealthCare.gov Rollout
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Former Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, issued a joint minority report today entitled, Red Flags: How Politics and Poor Management Led to the Meltdown of HealthCare.gov. The report found the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) failed to responsibly oversee the IT development of HealthCare.gov and wasted millions of dollars. Additionally, the report details how political pressure from the White House to go live on October 1, 2013, trumped operational realities, resulting in the release of an incomplete and unsecure website. The investigation found that the problems that plagued HealthCare.gov’s release came as no surprise to dozens of HHS officials and contractors despite assurances by senior Obama administration officials to the contrary.
“Today’s report shows how the actions of politically-motivated Administration officials botched the rollout of HealthCare.gov and wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars,” Hatch said. “The findings of this report show the inexcusable nature of the Administration’s disastrous failures. Unfortunately, it should come as no surprise that this Administration once again chose to put political expediency ahead of security and performance concerns. As we have seen in delay after delay, the Administration continues to simply ignore the fundamental flaws of the law instead of honestly acknowledging to American families that the law does not work. In the end, the problem with Obamacare is not just the failed rollout of HealthCare.gov, but the failed policies of the law that restrict patient choice and expand the powers of a bloated federal government.”
“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,” 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. When political will overpowers practical considerations, you get a mess like this website rollout.”
Key findings from the report include:
TurningPoint Independent Verification & Validation (IVV)
- TurningPoint was brought in to conduct an Independent Verification & Validation (IVV), but CMS admitted that it didn’t place much, if any, priority on these assessments. CMS also implied the reports weren’t useful or up-to-date, although there is little to no evidence of that. In fact, many of the predictions TurningPoint made came to fruition. TurningPoint found:
- At time of launch, only 23 percent of the website code was tested.
- CMS had no requirements for the number of defects it would accept or any contingency plan in place.
- There were problems in “all aspects” of the website a few weeks before launch.
CMS Ignored Countless Red Flags: “Officials ignored countless red flags to launch a website with thousands of defects. The breakdown [of HealthCare.gov] 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. These individuals were aware for months of gaping holes in testing, critical security concerns, and failures under the most modest simulations.”
CMS Had No Coordinated Project Management: “The Obama Administration failed to task any one individual or entity within HHS or CMS with ensuring the success of the public face of Obamacare. While there were individuals and entities tasked with building and coordinating many of the business level components of the website, there was no central coordinator fully responsible for the development of the website, and no single contractor had the authority to direct other contractors.”
The White House Exerted Undue Political Influence: “Rather than delegate responsibility fully to HHS and/or CMS, the White House continually meddled in technical decisions and put pressure on CMS officials to launch the website on time, regardless of operability and security concerns.”
HealthCare.gov was meant to be the face of the President’s healthcare law, a simple and efficient website to facilitate the purchase of health insurance. HHS tasked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) with designing and creating the IT infrastructure for HealthCare.gov. Incredibly, CMS failed to put one official in charge of the entire project nor did CMS hire a lead contractor to direct the work of the many contractors tasked with building HealthCare.gov.
HHS delayed issuing unpopular regulations until after the 2012 elections, in early 2013, leaving CMS and its contractors only a handful of months to develop and test critical systems. In late spring of 2013 McKinsey & Company conducted a review of the development of the federal exchange and warned senior White House and CMS officials of critical risks to the development of the federal exchange and offered recommendations. These senior administration officials failed to implement McKinsey’s recommendations and failed to share McKinsey’s findings with their subordinates until after the Oct. 1 collapse of healthcare.gov.
Throughout the summer and early fall of 2013, the IT build was characterized by mismanagement, defects, work slippages, wasted effort, and a lack of communication. The White House meddled in technical decisions, further complicating an already dire situation. The federal exchange did not receive end-to-end performance or security testing and the system collapsed under the most modest performance simulations. However, White House and CMS officials continued to misrepresent that HealthCare.gov would be ready to go on launch day.
White House officials pressured CMS to launch on Oct. 1 despite dozens of reports from multiple organizations that the website was not ready. Individuals who raised concerns were ignored and any concerns they raised were swept under the rug. Delaying the release of HealthCare.gov was never an option, resulting in the irresponsible launch of a malfunctioning website.