Official who made big healthcare website decision a frequent White House visitor

Thu Oct 24, 2013 8:45pm EDT
 
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By Gabriel Debenedetti and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON Oct 24 (Reuters) - The government official identified as being responsible for a last-minute decision that helped jam up the Obamacare health insurance website has been a frequent presence at the White House, according to visitor logs.

Henry Chao, deputy chief information officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), was named Thursday in congressional testimony as the one who ordered the lead contractor to make consumers register before browsing for price information, a step avoided by popular online shopping sites such as Amazon.com.

As a result of this decision made just two weeks before the website went public on Oct. 1, Healthcare.gov was overwhelmed with so many people trying to register at once that the site crashed, Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president of lead contractor CGI Federal, told U.S. lawmakers wanting to know why the site had so many problems.

"I believe it was Henry Chao and members of his team," Campbell told the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, is the agency spearheading the health care program.

Republican opponents of Obamacare who are looking into the website's troubles have been attempting to find out why the change was made and whether the White House was involved in it, theorizing that the administration was trying to erect a barrier that would keep consumers from finding out the true costs of the premiums they would be paying.

They have offered no evidence to support that claim, however, and the administration has denied any such motive. A spokeswoman for CMS said on Friday that the agency was trying to "prioritize the ability for us to launch live so consumers could conduct the full online application process."

She would not comment on whether Chao made the decision that Campbell said had led to problems.   Continued...