No Money, More Problems: With No Budget to Build It, Obamacare Site Was Destined For Failure

Afraid of seeming "whiny" in front of intractable anti-Obamacare Republicans, HHS shied away from asking for necessary funds to build a functional site.

U.S. President Barack Obama (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Oct 29, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Peter Zachariadis is a regular contributor to TakePart. A native Floridian, he has written for the Miami Herald and Associated Press in New Orleans.

Jay Angoff likens funding the Affordable Care Act to a zero sum game, where Congressional Republicans and the department of Health and Human Services are fighting a war with no winners.

The former director Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight for the federal department saw firsthand how HHS was forced to skim money from different department budgets to fund the creation of federal exchange website that, at first blush, is showing so many signs of growing pains.

“HHS had to scramble by taking money away from different departments,” Angoff told TakePart.

It has not been a secret that Republicans have made repealing ACA an issue in their party, he said. There has never been a penny appropriated for the program because of the right wing’s distaste for the law.

“They wouldn’t be in a position to discuss it,” Angoff said of how funding ACA might look to constituents who want Congressional Republicans to repeal the law at the earliest opportunity. So far, Republicans have failed 45 times in their attempts at repealing ACA.

But HHS has not made an issue out of the lack of funding from Congress either, he said.

“It’s not something HHS can talk about without seeming whiny,” Angoff said. “None of which excuses the failure of the website.”

HHS did not respond to TakePart’s queries on whether the department had done enough to make sure the contractors overseeing the website were adequately funded in time for the October 1 opening or if there is enough money to fund a program that is supposed to look out for insured Americans.

By all accounts, the early shortcomings of the website raise questions about whether the job was rushed.

One HHS official apologized for the website’s shortfall publicly on Tuesday, but did not offer enough of an explanation on why it happened.

“To the millions of Americans who’ve attempted to use to shop and enroll in health-care coverage, I want to apologize to you that the Web site has not worked as well as it should,” Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee.

“We know how desperately you need affordable coverage. I want to assure you that can and will be fixed and we are working around the clock to deliver the shopping experience that you deserve,” she added.

Tavenner promised that the problems would be fixed and that the “experience” for the “majority” of site users would be “smoother” by mid-November.

But none of her pledges prevented partisan bickering during the hearing. At times, senior members traded jabs back and forth with each other and made public their distaste for the law instead of asking questions that might ease ACA’s progress in helping Americans in their quest for health insurance over the coming year.