It shouldn’t surprise us that an entitlement sold to the people with lies and half-truths would continue to keep hidden those elements that might cause Americans grief.
The latest revelation involves the so-called “anonymous shopper” function of the website and why the administration won’t activate it — despite it being one of the few working features on healthcare.gov:
The window shopping feature allows website visitors to compare health insurance plans without opening an account, verifying their identity or determining whether they qualify for a federal subsidy. The tool was turned off before HealthCare.gov launched and is still unavailable to users.
This, despite the fact that a test of the anonymous shopper feature prior to the website rollout showed it to be working well, as CNN discovered:
When the troubled federal health care website came online, the key “Anonymous Shopper” function was nowhere to be found — even though it passed a key test almost two weeks before HealthCare.gov launched.
That successful test, noted in documents obtained by CNN and confirmed by a source close to the project, contradicts testimony from an Obama administration official overseeing HealthCare.gov, who told lawmakers earlier this month the function was scrapped because it “failed miserably” before the October 1 launch.
Like much of the HealthCare.gov rollout, the subject has become political fodder for Republicans, who claim the decision to nix the anonymous shopper was made by administration officials worried it would produce rate estimates so high they would deter potential enrollees.
What does the anonymous shopper function do?
Using anonymous shopping, visitors would have been able to enter their age, ZIP code, county, number of people in their household and whether they use tobacco, to obtain an array of almost instant quotes and detailed comparisons for various health insurance plans available to them.
Like a supermarket that carefully lays out products in aisles, gently guiding the shopper around the store through strategic placement of staples, healthcare.gov designed a system to guide insurance shoppers to the good stuff first – the subsidies – and then sprung the bad news of expensive premiums on them.
Not exactly what President Obama had in mind when he described the way the website would work:
“Just visit HealthCare.gov, and there you can compare insurance plans, side by side, the same way you’d shop for a plane ticket on Kayak or a TV on Amazon,” Obama said on October 1, the day the website went live. “You enter some basic information, you’ll be presented with a list of quality, affordable plans that are available in your area, with clear descriptions of what each plan covers, and what it will cost.”
Yet on that day, and even now, that’s not really possible.
The absence of the online shopping tool is “a major design failure,” said Sam Karp, vice president of programs at the California HealthCare Foundation, an Oakland-based nonprofit that supports and promotes the president’s signature health care program in the Golden State.
Blocked out at HealthCare.gov? Bypass on way soon, feds say.
A “design failure?” Or a deliberate choice to avoid sticker shock for most consumers?
The IT chief at CMS, Henry Chao, testimony about the anonymous shopper function is riddled with lies:
In a congressional hearing earlier this month, Henry Chao, the Deputy IT director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, was asked whether there were any political considerations involved in the last-minute decision to delay the “anonymous shopper” function at Obamacare’s online insurance portal, Healthcare.gov.
He responded that there were “none whatsoever.”
“I look at the facts of whether—if a system is going to be ready,” Chao said, “and of course not everything is going to be 100 percent perfect, and there are certain tolerances. But in this case it failed so miserably that we could not consciously use it.”
CNN reported exactly the opposite — that the function passed a key test before the website went live on October 1. And as Peter Suderman at Hit and Run points out, the political considerations took precedence even over ease of use:
But there’s some reason to think that CNN’s story is not incomplete, and that Chao, in his response, did not tell the truth. The CNN report backs up, and seems to confirm, an October report in The Wall Street Journal, which said that the federally run insurance portal “was initially going to include an option to browse before registering, but that tool was delayed.” The Journal report included an explanation for why the function was removed—an explanation that said nothing about technical failures. “An HHS spokeswoman said the agency wanted to ensure that users were aware of their eligibility for subsidies that could help pay for coverage, before they started seeing the prices of policies.”
In other words, officials didn’t want people to see the true price of the insurance premiums on offer through the exchanges, so they created a system which only allowed for plan shopping after subsidy eligibility was confirmed.
That doesn’t sound like it was simply a question of system readiness, as Chao claimed before Congress. And if Chao lied about the test results, it’s reasonable to wonder whether he also misled about the reasoning for disabling the feature.
The administration is incapable to telling the truth about anything related to Obamacare. How can they when the truth would only make things seem worse? Not activating the anonymous shopper function will only make the online experience for consumers wishing to purchase insurance that much more difficult.
A small consideration when stacked against the political damage that would accrue otherwise.