At the Capitol Hill hearings held yesterday on the botched rollout of the federal Obamacare website, Colorado Republican Congressman Cory Gardner accused the Department of Health and Human Services of shutting down a browsable component of the website in order to hide the “true cost, the upfront costs” of the new health care plans from the public.
“It’s clear to me, the reason why two weeks before October 1st happened, this browsable website was turned off to hide the costs, the true costs that the American people are paying,” Gardner said, wagging his finger at the committee witnesses. “Because if it was a browsable website that we built, that taxpayers paid for, those real costs, the true costs, the upfront costs, would be visible to the American people. CMS made a determination, a decision, that they would turn off — two weeks before October 1st — the browsable website to hide the real costs of Obamacare from the American people.”
CMS, stands for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the division of the Health and Human Services Department administering Obamacare. It is the branch of government that the technology companies on the hot seat at the hearing have contracted with to build the Affordable Care Act website.
Gardner’s accusation came without any supporting evidence and it came hours into what some of the Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee were calling a “monkey court” stage trial. Gardner’s comments, in which he railed against the president and floated the CMS theory, were of a piece with the strident criticisms leveled all day by Republican on the committee against the healthcare law generally.
His office didn’t reply this morning to a request for comment.
Gardner has inveighed against the health care law ever since it was first proposed. At the hearing, he began his questioning with a story he has been telling for a month now at state and national media outlets. It’s the story of how his private-sector health insurance policy was canceled this summer because it didn’t meet the new consumer protection requirements set in place by the law. He often adds that he’ll have to pay more for worse coverage as a result. But he has been slow to provide evidence to back up the claim. His insurer told the Colorado Independent that Gardner could likely get a more comprehensive policy at a lower rate at Connect for Health, Colorado’s relatively smoothly operating Affordable Care Act exchange website.
Gardner asked if the witnesses testifying at Thursday’s hearing knew the identities of the new heavy-hitter support personnel President Obama announced Monday would be hired to help fix the healthcare website.
The witnesses told Gardner that they didn’t yet know who the Administration planned to bring on to help fix the site.
He then asked why the browsable website developed by CGI was not yet posted online. He was tapping into growing criticism that the new glitchy website doesn’t allow readers to “window shop” before having to create accounts and calculate what subsidies they might be eligible for when choosing plans.
CGI Federal representative Cheryl Campbell, a senior vice president at the Canadian internet technology company, said the “browsable” CGI site Gardner was referring to had not been tested for integration. She implied that there were a lot of moving parts with which it would have had to be meshed before it could go live and that her company was not in charge of integrating all the moving parts to the larger healthcare site.
Gardner wanted to know how much taxpayers had spent for the CGI site.
Campbell said she could get back to him and he quickly left off the matter. “They turned off the browsable website to hide the real costs of Obamacare from the American people,” he said.
As AP reported, North Carolina Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield wasn’t buying the Gardner allegation.
“Are you aware of any political intervention by this White House relating to your work on HealthCare.gov?” he asked Campbell.
“I am not,” she said.
Gardner’s seven-minute questioning begins at 10:35 at the C-Span video of the hearing:[blockquote]GARDNER: I take this personally. This is a very serious issue for me and for thousands of my constituents, millions of Americans. The president made a simple promise to all of our country. He said two things: If you like your health care plan, you get to keep your health care plan. Period. And this will also lower the cost of health care.
But you know what, in August, my wife and I got a letter that said our health insurance plan had been canceled… Despite the president’s promise to me and to thousands of Coloradans and millions of Americans, those insurance plans are being canceled and they’re being told they have to buy insurance through a website that doesn’t work. The denial of this debacle is incredible. It’s like trying to watch the Three Stooges in HD and expecting it to work. But that’s exactly what we are seeing here…
GARDNER: You were asked to turn off browsing two weeks before October 1st. Does that mean that you originally built a browsable website?
CAMPBELL: That is correct.
GARDNER: Why can’t you just turn that on?
CAMPBELL: We have not been asked to turn it on, now the system has gone live… well, we can turn it on but it would have to be tested and make sure that now that it’s in a live environment —
GARDNER: So the taxpayers paid for a browsable website. Is that correct
GARDNER: Why can’t you turn that on?
CAMPBELL: If given the instructions by CMS [the company in charge of integrating all the moving parts of the site]…
GARDNER: Well, it’s clear to me, the reason why two weeks before October 1st happened, this browsable website was turned off to hide the costs, the true costs that the American people are paying, because if it was a browsable website that we built, that taxpayers paid for, those real costs, the true costs, the upfront costs, would be visible to the American people. CMS made a determination, a decision, that they would turn off — two weeks before October 1st — the browsable website to hide the real costs of Obamacare from the American people.
With that Mr Chairman I yield back my time. [/blockquote]
Campbell represents an enormous private-sector corporation that has made hundreds of millions from government contracts — and much of that in the last decade as mostly Republican lawmakers increasingly work to trim government staff and feed work to the private sector, touting the relative efficiency of market-based businesses.
No one asked Thursday whether corporations like CGI and more commonly known Defense Department contractors like Lockheed Martin, embedded over years or even decades with the departments they’re working with, are any more efficient than wholly public enterprises or whether they work in anything close to a “free market,” where competition is held to boost competence.