HealthCare.gov manager warned about enrollment site's problems in July

Greg Nash

Less than three months before HealthCare.gov was launched, its project manager, Henry Chao, warned the troubles with the site could “crash the plane at takeoff.”

In July, Chao said he was frustrated with the main contractor at the time, CGI federal, according to documents released by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Reuters obtained copies of the documents. 

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Internal emails that month exchanged between officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), including Chao, showed the ObamaCare website had software problems, described problems they had with contractors, and addressed staff shortages. 

“They are the Prime and take direction from us so I don’t want to hear about Marklogic, TMRK/URS, or anything else” Chao wrote in one email in mid-July. “I just need to feel more confident they are not going to crash the plane at take-off, regardless of the price. Figure out how to get that conversation conducted and message conveyed.”

Chao also expressed frustrations with changing delivery dates, poor quality assurance on software and struggles with releases, Reuters added.

HealthCare.gov’s technical problems became clear when the site was unveiled on Oct. 1.

A representative for CMS downplayed Chao's warning.

“This email discusses one small piece of ongoing discussions about managing deliverables and communicating expectations that were on a short timeline to meet Oct. 1. Management concerns about meeting timelines are expected for any project of this size and scope,” the spokesman said.

The Obama administration has apologized for the rocky rollout, and officials have faced congressional panels seeking answers about what went wrong.

Meanwhile, health officials are scrambling to fix the website by a self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline, so it's running smoothly for most users.

President Obama appointed Jeff Zients to oversee the “fix-it” process. Zients previously served as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

He tasked another contractor involved, QSSI, with leading the repair effort. 

The Department of Health and Human Services revealed this week that just over 106,000 people enrolled in insurance plans through ObamaCare in October; 27,000 enrolled using the online marketplace, far lower than expected. 

— This story was last updated at 12:59 p.m.