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Senate report: Buffing Obama's legacy trumped fixing Healthcare.gov in early Obamacare launch

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Obamacare,Chuck Grassley,Orrin Hatch,CMS,Healthcare.gov,Health Care Exchanges

Under pressure from the White House, healthcare.gov was launched despite a wave of previously unknown warnings from consultants that the Obamacare website was insecure, untested and prone to crashing after just 500 people got on, according to a damaging new Senate report.

“The White House continually meddled in technical decisions and put pressure on [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] officials to launch the website on time, regardless of operability and security concerns. As a result, officials ignored countless red flags to launch a website with thousands of defects. In the end, the launch failed miserably, crashing on takeoff,” said the report from Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ranking member of the panel, with panel member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and their staff, have spent months interviewing key officials, reviewing emails and collecting reports in their probe of the website and concluded that top officials, feeling the heat to burnish President Obama's health care legacy, ignored several warnings and flipped the switch October 1.

"Both metaphorically and factually, the website was designed to be the public face of President Obama's signature achievement," said the report. As a result, it added, “No one wanted to be the messenger that told the White House that its signature piece of legislation was going to crash at takeoff. The administration prioritized political success over protecting taxpayers,” charges the report, provided to Secrets in advance of its Thursday morning release.

The report, “Red Flags: How Politics and Poor Management Led to the Meltdown of Healthcare.gov,” for the first time reveals several flaws and warnings that should have prompted a delay in launching the glitch-filled website. Among them:

— Just 23 percent of the site’s coding had been tested.

— Only 40 percent of security controls were tested, and the administration didn’t know whether they could protect the personal medical and financial information of Obamacare applicants.

— The White House continually piled on new demands, delaying the project, and meddled with the launch with pestering requests and questions.

— The decision by a top official to delay the launch was overridden by Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner.

“Unfortunately, it should come as no surprise that this administration once again chose to put political expediency ahead of security and performance concerns. As we have seen in delay after delay, the administration continues to simply ignore the fundamental flaws of the law instead of honestly acknowledging to American families that the law does not work,” said Hatch.

He added, “In the end, the problem with Obamacare is not just the failed rollout of healthcare.gov, but the failed policies of the law that restrict patient choice and expand the powers of a bloated federal government.”

Grassley said, “The administration looked the other way on problems, even when the independent contractor hired to monitor the project was waving red flags, pointing to likely failure. This website wasn’t a ‘Field of Dreams’ fantasy where you hope for the best and everything works out because it’s a movie.”

Their report detailed for the first time warnings from outside auditor TurningPoint Global Solutions. They repeatedly warned that development and testing of the site was behind. Just before the launch, they warned of 677 “serious defects,” and found that 21,000 lines of coding were defective.

Not only was the administration warned, but a top official noted in an email that Tavenner’s office knew that it would crash if just 500 people were on the website at once.

The report put much of the blame on politics, but also the lack of a general contractor or top official who had control over the web page. “There was a lack of clear leadership from the beginning of the project,” said the report. “Healthcare.gov did not have anyone in charge.”

It concluded that the system has improved since the disastrous start, but not before spending $834 million. “This is a staggering amount of taxpayer funds to enroll a few million people. In addition to the waste and inefficiency, the people forced to use the website had to waste time and effort dealing with a dysfunctional system,” said the report.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.