The Obama administration knew in mid August that it would delay the online enrollment for small businesses in the federal health-insurance exchange but did not announce it until more than a month later, according to internal e-mails released on Friday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
After receiving an updated rollout schedule on August 13 that pushed the launch of the small-business exchange to November 15 from October 1, a top Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services official asked, “Can we sign this with blood?” Another delay, which pushed the enrollment for small businesses back for a full year, was announced in late November.
The online portion of the small-business exchange was held up, according to the e-mails, because officials knew that the applications for employees were unlikely to be ready by October 1. (The application for employers was expected to be ready on time, but officials expressed concern about launching one without the other. “I am recommending that the employer and employee applications go live at the same time because they are a very linked process,” one said.)
A CMS spokesman said the e-mails did not reflect the final decisions made later by more senior officials.
“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,” Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton said in a statement. “The documents we are now reviewing tell a much, much different story than what officials testified to Congress. While it’s not clear if any ‘blood oath’ was taken, the president’s top lieutenants repeatedly looked us in the eye, insisting that they were ‘on track’ when they knew looming deadlines would be impossible to meet.”
Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius is set to testify before the committee next week.