White House emails chronicle serious health care site concerns before launch

Eric Pfeiffer
Yahoo News

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A series of White House emails show members of the Obama administration expressing concern over the HealthCare.gov site’s viability in the days leading up to its launch on October 1st.

“[C]an you think about a better way to convey to the public when the site is not available?” reads and email from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Deputy Chief Information Officer Henry Chao. “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.”

And in one particularly insightful exchange, Chao attached an image of the HealthCare.gov site with a “The System is down at the Moment” error message.

The emails were sent to a few dozen individuals on the content management system (CMS) staff and a number of independent contractors. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa released the email exchanges.

In another message, Chao discussed how CMS Administrator Marilyn Travenner and Chief Technology Officer Todd Park expressed concern over the site’s viability.

“When Todd Park and Marilyn was here yesterday one of the things Todd conveyed was this fear the WH has about hc.gov being unavailable,” Chao wrote. “Todd does have a good point and I think we should have a more comprehensive answer as to how we will ensure high availability.”

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However, White House spokesman Eric Schultz told Politico that the Chao’s concerns were more focused on whether the site could handle a large number of visitors rather than overall concerns about the site’s general viability.

“On the eve of launching a website this complex, it is only natural to raise questions and prepare for all scenarios, including high volume,” Schultz told Politico. “As we have said many times now, nobody anticipated the size and scope of the problems we experienced once the site launched, but our concern at the time was increasing the site’s capacity to handle many users – a concern that proved prescient since demand to this day remains very high for quality affordable health care.”

Last Friday, another set of emails released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee showed similar concerns being raised by Chao and other individuals working on the healthcare site.

“I just need to feel more confident they are not going to crash the plane at take-off,” Chao wrote in a July 16 email.