Lawmakers are clashing over why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services started off with public exchange plan price data behind a HealthCare.gov log-in wall.
When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act federal exchange enrollment site opened Oct. 1, users had to create an account to get easy access to state exchange plan data, including pricing. HHS officials told the Wall Street Journal they made the change so users would know about their eligibility for premium subsidies before seeing prices.
In early October, users had trouble creating HealthCare.gov accounts, and exchange watchers said traffic from consumers who simply wanted to “window shop” added to high traffic volume that bogged down system performance.
During the second week the enrollment system was open, HealthCare.gov managers added a plan price window shopping feature.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and several other Republicans on the committee, have sent Obama administration officials a letter asking whether administration officials told a contractor to put the price information behind a log-in call for political reasons.
"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 and his colleagues wrote in the letter, sent Monday.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the highest-ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, and Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., said in a letter of their own that the Republicans are politicizing the issue of HealthCare.gov problems by making unsubstantiated allegations.
Representatives from CGI Federal Inc., one of the contractors that supposedly told Oversight Committee investigators that political considerations affected exchange website decisions, gave the committee staff answers that directly contradict Issa’s assertions, Cummings and Connolly said.
Officials at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the HHS agency in charge of HealthCare.Gov, said in a statement that they tried to help consumers prepare for heavy initial site traffic by opening the HealthCare.gov site account creation feature to the public two months before the enrollment system opened.
HHS always planned to add plan window shopping after it got the enrollment system up and running, officials said.
Since HHS added window shopping, the percentage of users who window shop and the percentage who start or use accounts has held steady, which suggests many visitors still want to set up accounts, not simply window shop, officials said.