… [A] lot of people would like to know how the federal government showered $634 million on a host of IT contractors to build HealthCare.gov, a website that has had the worst debut of any product since New Coke. The site is supposed to provide a menu of insurance plans for Americans in the 36 states without their own site. Instead, it has become a black box — the few applications insurance companies have managed to receive from it are glitch-filled and error-riddled, the insurers say.
President Obama and Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have both said that the problems were caused by the site’s popularity — the system was overloaded by too many users eager to sign up. But in the two weeks following its October 1 launch, the number of visitors to HealthCare.gov dropped by 88 percent, based on the findings of the Millward Brown Digital research firm. The site has been taken down at least twice for “fixes.” …
… One reason for the silence may be that the story of how the website was designed — and bungled — is just too awful. The Washington Examiner has reported that “rather than open the contracting process to a competitive public solicitation with multiple bidders, officials in the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid accepted a sole bidder, CGI Federal, the U.S. subsidiary of a Canadian company with an uneven record of IT pricing and contract performance.” In fact, a full 13 months ago, the Canadian province of Ontario fired CGI for failing to deliver on time a new online medical registry. But that apparently raised no alarm bells back in Washington.
Barack Obama vowed in 2008 that “transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.” In reality, he has treated transparency as if it were kryptonite. ABC News White House correspondent Ann Compton calls Obama “the least transparent of the seven presidents I’ve covered in terms of how he does his daily business.” Josh Gerstein, who covers the White House for Politico, has concluded that “if the story is basically one that they don’t want to come out, they won’t even give you the basic facts.”
Well, here’s a basic fact. If HealthCare.gov isn’t fixed quickly, it will run up against something called a reality check. On January 1, all Americans will be required by law to have health insurance. The deadline to apply for health coverage — and avoid paying a penalty of up to 1 percent of income — is February 15. This is not the same deadline as that marking the end of the open-enrollment period, which is March 31. So you could enroll after February 15, but you would pay the penalty. As Politico dryly noted last week: “This quirk, unearthed by industry observers, appears to have gone previously unnoticed by the administration. ‘The IRS didn’t know that,’ said Jackson Hewitt Vice President Brian Haile, who recently brought the issue to the administration’s attention.”
If the meltdowns at HealthCare.gov aren’t fixed soon, the delay in implementing that mandate — a delay that President Obama refused to even contemplate during the government shutdown — may become a necessity for him.