National Journal

Health Care
Officials scrambled on options for small businesses

By Sam Baker
December 6, 2013

Officials in the Obama administration had already decided they needed to delay new health insurance options for small businesses even as officials were testifying before Congress that the program would be ready, according to newly released internal emails.

The emails, released by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, show that officials within the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decided in August that they needed to delay part of a new insurance marketplace for small businesses.

“Guys, this is absolutely urgent and I need an answer on this today. If this is late we have to public announce we are late with a deliverable which means Marilyn Tavenner and the Secretary will have to announce,” Monique Outerbridge, director of CMS’s Office of Information Services, wrote on Aug. 6.

The delay was not publicly announced until Sept. 26—just days before the scheduled Oct. 1 launch. The administration has since decided to push back the online enrollment process until next year.

CMS said the emails released Friday only cover part of the decision-making process. Senior officials did not sign off on the final decision to partially delay the small-business exchange, known as SHOP, until mid-September, CMS 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,” CMS said in a statement. “These emails do not reflect final decisions made by more senior CMS officials.”

Although the delay was not finalized until September, the emails show that technical officials and contractors knew in July and August they were unlikely to meet the deadline for an Oct. 1 launch.

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