CMS Knew SHOP Would Not Be Ready on Oct. 1, Emails Show
Senior CMS officials knew nearly two months in advance that the Affordable Care Act's federal Small Business Health Options Program website would not launch in its full capacity on Oct. 1, according to a selection of internal emails released Friday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 12/6).
The release of the documents came less than two weeks after the Obama administration announced that it had delayed by one year the launch of SHOP exchange. The administration said the insurance marketplace for small businesses will open in November 2014 for coverage beginning January 2015. Federal officials said they needed more time to improve the website for the SHOP exchange (California Healthline, 12/2).
According to the Wall Street Journal's "Washington Wire," CMS issued a vaguely worded press release on Sept. 26 alluding to the possibility that small business owners would not have full access to the SHOP exchange until November, even though the portal would open on Oct. 1 (Schatz, "Washington Wire," Wall Street Journal, 12/6).
However, during testimony at a House hearing in October, CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner told lawmakers that the SHOP exchange would be functional "at the end of November." Federal officials also said that small business owners in the meantime could mail or fax in their enrollment information and a SHOP small employer call center would be open for extended hours to assist employers (California Healthline, 11/4).
Details of Emails
Email exchanges from July 25 to Aug. 13 between CMS and CGI Federal -- the main federal contractor working on the federal ACA websites -- showed back-and-forth communications about whether the SHOP website would be ready to open on time, the Washington Post's "Post Politics" reports.
In one email dated Aug. 13, CGI Vice President of Consulting Mark Calem told CMS Deputy Chief Information Officer Henry Chao that his firm was developing a "planned rollout schedule for SHOP" and that the "employee portal [would go] live" Nov. 15 (Eilperin, "Post Politics," Washington Post, 12/6).
Officials noted that the site's main components would be ready on Nov. 1 and Nov. 15 and that CMS would have to announce a delay of one month and six weeks, respectively, according to "Healthwatch" ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 12/6).
However, the administration waited until Sept. 26 to announce the delay in a press release that drew little attention ("Washington Wire," Wall Street Journal, 12/6).
CMS in a statement said, "The emails in question are between a small group of individuals involved in a broader decision-making process, and they reflect one piece of many conversations about managing deliverables and communicating expectations" ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 12/6).
It added, "The final decision to delay SHOP enrollment functions was not made until mid-September, and CMS announced the delay once we had complete information about what functionality would be available for small business owners on Oct. 1" ("Washington Wire," Wall Street Journal, 12/6).
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) in a statement said, "As the paper trail broadens, we see more and more evidence that the administration was fully aware its signature health care law was not ready for prime time."
Upton added that top administration health officials "repeatedly looked us in the eye, insisting that they were 'on track' when they knew looming deadlines would be impossible to meet. These are not the characteristics of the 'most transparent administration in history'" ("Post Politics," Washington Post, 12/6).
He also announced that his committee will convene a hearing this week to examine the series of problems and delays facing the ACA and that Sebelius "must come prepared ... to provide answers about what [Jan.] 1 and beyond will really look like" (House Energy and Commerce Committee release, 12/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.