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POLITICS: PennAve

Emails show White House 'fear' of website problems days before launch

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Politics,White House,Obamacare,Health and Human Services,Health Care,PennAve,Kathleen Sebelius,Meghashyam Mali,Healthcare.gov,Technology

An email thread shows top administration technology officials worried just days before the launch of healthcare.gov that problems with the website could botch the Obamacare rollout and invite a firestorm of media criticism.

The emails were released by the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday night.

In an email dated Sept. 25, Medicare & Medicaid Services Deputy Chief Information Officer Henry Chao writes "When [White House Chief Technology Officer] Todd Park and [CMS Administrator] Marilyn [Tavenner] was [sic] here yesterday one of the things Todd conveyed was this fear the WH has about hc.gov being unavailable."

"Todd does have a good point and I think we should have a more comprehensive answer as to how we will ensure high availability," he added.

Chao urged the tech team to find a way to inform consumers visiting the site if it was experiencing difficulties.

"Think about a better way to convey to the public when the site is available? I am picturing in my mind all the major print and online publications taking screenshots of what is below and just ramping up the hyperbole about hc.gov not functional," he added.

Chao included an Image of the healthcare.gov page reading "the system is down at the moment. We’re working to resolve the issue as soon as possible. Please try again later."

The botched rollout of the website and the impending cancellation of insurance plans for millions of Americans whose coverage doesn't meet Obamacare's new requirements threatens to undercut support for Obama's signature achievement.

While Obama has vowed to have the website working smoothly by December for the vast majority of users, initial enrollment numbers have been weak and his approval rating has slid to new lows in many polls.

Earlier this week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released documents showing that the administration was warned as early as March about problems with healthcare.gov.

A report from McKinsey and Co. raised red flags and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was briefed on their review, sharing the findings with Obama.

The administration has pushed back against criticism, arguing that while the president was aware of potential troubles with the website he never knew the full extent of the technical problems.

GOP lawmakers, though, are questioning the testimony of administration officials, including Sebelius, who testified to Congress ahead of the healthcare.gov launch that the rollout was "on track."

The White House has also pushed back against growing calls for officials responsible to be fired, saying that the focus now is on fixing the website.

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