Republicans on the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday charged that the federal ObamaCare site is floundering because federal officials tried to hide the “sticker shock” of insurance premiums.
In a letter to two top technology officers at the Office of Management and Budget, Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) accused the administration of making the “political decision” to mask the costs of insurance premiums online, which he says contributed to the botched website development.
“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,” Issa wrote.
“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.”
Issa, an ally of Silicon Valley, said the “chaotic mess” of the federal site is what happens when “prudent design and programming decisions are subordinated to politics.”
The GOP letter cites testimony from employees at CGI Federal, the company that was primarily responsible for developing the HealthCare.Gov website.
Issa said employees at CGI Federal claimed they were in contact with Obama administration officials who directed them about “what the White House wants.”
“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,” Issa wrote.
Oversight ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said Issa’s letter “mischaracterizes the briefing we received and omits key information that directly contradicts your accusations.”
Cummings said CGI officials told the committee they saw “no evidence of political considerations affecting operational decisions about the website.”
“Your letter appears to mix together news reports of questionable veracity with partial and incomplete descriptions of Committee briefings to create an unsubstantiated narrative that White House officials were making technical decisions based on political motivations,” Cummings wrote.
A handful of media reports citing IT experts have said a feature of the HealthCare.Gov website that requires consumers to register online before browsing prices resulted in a bottleneck of web traffic that is responsible for the site problems.
Some Republicans argue the administration required the preliminary step because buyers would be scared off by high prices before registering.
CGI officials have testified that a feature of the website allow consumers to browse prices before registering was removed in “late August or early September,” shortly before the site went live. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the feature had changed in recent days so consumers can now browse by zip code before registering.
Cummings accused Issa of making allegations “with no basis in fact,” something he said “has become an unfortunate pattern with this Committee.”
Carney seemed to allude to the controversy in a briefing on Tuesday, saying the administration cooperates with “all legitimate Congressional oversight.”
In a follow-up question, a reporter questioned whether Carney’s comment about welcoming “legitimate Congressional oversight” was meant to dismiss Issa’s investigation as illegitimate."
“I’m not suggesting that about this,” Carney said
"I think everybody here who wasn’t born yesterday has seen questionable congressional oversight in the past,” he added.
— This story was last updated at 2:05 p.m.