by Tom Fitton –
Type “Obamacare rollout disaster” into the Google search engine, and you get a staggering 290,000 results, most of them dating back to the days immediately following the catastrophic October 2013 launch of Healthcare.gov. Significantly, however, the most recent results focus on the Judicial Watch release on May 19, 2014. That’s the date Judicial Watch released a 106-page document we obtained on May 1 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that reveals the shocking details of the rollout disaster.
Though the Obama administration tried to cover up the full extent of the website failure in the days following its launch, the lengthy Judicial Watch document tells a tale of complete collapse. The document was forced out of this secretive administration by our November 25, 2013, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.
Judicial Watch filed suit after HHS refused to respond to our October 7, 2013, FOIA request seeking the following information:
Any and all records concerning, regarding, or related to the number of individuals that purchased health insurance through Healthcare.gov between October 1, 2013, and October 4, 2013.
A simple request – that was stonewalled for over six months. Now we know why. This document shows that, on its first full day of operation, October 1, 2013, Obamacare’s Healthcare.gov received only one enrollment! That’s one – out of 334 million Americans. On the second day, 48% of registrations failed to process.
The Affordable Health Care Act website immediately encountered massive problems typical of those reported by the Chicago Tribune: “Consumers seeking more information on their new options under the Affordable Care Act were met with long delays, error messages and a largely non-working federal insurance exchange and call center Tuesday morning.” Late-night comedian Jay Leno joked that Americans were getting carpal tunnel syndrome trying to get through to register.
Pressed for an explanation in a conference call with reporters on Obamacare’s opening day, Marilyn Tavenner, head of the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, refused to disclose the number of people who had purchased insurance through the site saying, “We have just decided not to release that yet.”
The full extent of the failure, however, is reflected in the details provided by the Judicial Watch FOIA document revelations. They include:
• On October 1, there were 43,208 accounts created and 1 enrollment.
• As of October 31, 2013, there were 1,319,425 accounts created nationwide – but only 30,512 actual enrollments in Obamacare.
• On October 1, 2013, at the end of the first day (4:30), the Senior Advisor at Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Brigid M. Russell, sent out an email to her staff with a subject line celebrating “2 enrollments!” The body copy of the email read: “We have our second official FFM enrollment! The first two Form 834s sent out are to: 1) CareSource in Ohio, 2) BCBS of North Carolina.
• Official figures contained in the HHS report provide conflicting figures as to the number of enrollments. FFM [Federally Facilitated Marketplace] statistics show 23,259 cumulative to-date applications submitted as of 10/2/13 and 286 completed plan selections. Earlier numbers show 356 enrollments created as of 7pm on 10/2/13 that were completed with Form 834s sent.
• An October 2, 2013, email from HHS Special Assistant Marianne Bowen indicated serious problems with congressional enrollments: “The Congressional issue (68 attempts for Direct enrollment) was an issue stemming from incomplete applications being sent through (started, not finished, sent anyway) and the way the issuers are assigning unique numbers. Turns out there were only 4 complete Direct Enrollment applications that went through, the other 64 were not complete.” [The U.S. Congress has approximately 24,000 professional staffers.]
• On October 2, 2013, the Obamacare website had 70 million page views but only 5 million were unique visitors, and 48% of registrations failed. The large number of page views may have been the result of visitors repeatedly hitting the “refresh” button due to long waiting times.
Once again, as is so often the case, Judicial Watch was able to get information through FOIA that no one else had gotten – in this case, the specifics about the unmitigated failure of Healthcare.gov. The Obama administration tried to cover this up and Congress failed to follow through, but we managed to get the truth about the $667 million Obamacare website. Imagine what would have happened to Obamacare if the American people knew that only one person was able to enroll on its first day? And imagine what will happen when the full truth is finally revealed about what other Obamacare failures President Obama is hiding.
We already know that even after it became clear that the Healthcare.gov website had failed to perform, the Obama administration continued putting out bogus figures touting its success. On April 17, Obama boasted that eight million people had signed up for health insurance on Healthcare.gov. But, that figure appears to have been massively over-inflated. According to testimony in May by the America’s Health Insurance Plans association before the House Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Oversight, “Because of the challenges that surfaced with the launch of the Exchanges in October 2013, some consumers were advised to create a new account and enroll again. As a result, insurers have many duplicate enrollments in their system for which they never received any payment.”
And there are other problems dating all the way back to the launch as well. That’s why, in addition to our FOIA lawsuit to obtain rollout enrollment figures, on March 27, 2014, we also filed a FOIA lawsuit against the HHS for records regarding the testing and oversight of the Obama administration’s error-filled “834” reporting forms. Form 834 is an electronic file sent from HealthCare.gov to an insurance company after a consumer picks a health care coverage plan. An inaccurate 834 form may result in consumers either not having coverage, or being turned down for payment claims. It has been estimated that as many as 33 percent of the 834 forms for enrollees in the federal health care website may have been inaccurate, incomplete, or missing altogether.
We are not going to stop pursuing the truth on the Obamacare fiasco. And we will keep you informed every step of the way.
Judicial Watch Files Suit over White House Stonewall
Under 5 U.S. Code § 552 – better known as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is specifically charged with investigating allegations that federal agencies have violated FOIA regulations. Here’s how the law reads: “the Special Counsel shall … conduct an investigation of any allegation concerning …arbitrary or capricious withholding of information prohibited under [FOIA] …”
Notice that in writing the law, Congress used the imperative “shall” – not “can,” “may,” or “if it wants to.” In short, Congress ordered the Special Counsel to get the job done. There is no wiggle room. And that makes it all the more ironic, and lamentable, that on April 25, 2014, Judicial Watch was forced to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the OSC to obtain government records about our June 15, 2010, request for an investigation into possible Hatch Act violations by then-White House staff members Rahm Emanuel and Jim Messina.
After filing the 2010 complaint, we received no information from OSC until May 30, 2013 – that’s right, three full years later. And that information came only in response to a May 23, 2013, letter we sent to OSC Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner asking about the disposition of our complaint. Her response further compounded the issue. The OSC, she informed Judicial Watch, had simply decided to close the case against Emanuel and Messina. No investigation. No charges. Olly, olly oxen free.
So, on June 27, 2013, we filed a FOIA request, seeking the following information:
Any and all records concerning, regarding, or related to the request for investigation filed by Judicial Watch with the Hatch Act Unit on June 15, 2010 concerning federal employees Jim Messina and Rahm Emanuel.
The OSC, the enforcer of FOIA, ignored our FOIA request. So, now, we are going to court to prosecute the Special Counsel’s “arbitrary or capricious withholding of information.”
By way of background, our original complaint alleged that in 2009, then-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and then-deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, on behalf of the Obama administration, both used their position and influence as highly placed federal employees to affect the outcome of federal elections. And that was in direct violation of the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act states that an employee may not “use his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.” And there is very little doubt as to their culpability.
On May 27, 2009, Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak said in an interview with CNN that he intended to challenge Senator Arlen Specter in the 2010 Democratic Primary. According to a White House memo authored by then-White House Counsel Robert Bauer, “efforts were made in June and July of 2009 to determine whether Congressman Sestak would be interested in service on a Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board, which would avoid a divisive Senate primary.” The memo further notes that Emanuel enlisted the help of former President Bill Clinton to raise the executive branch positions with Congressman Sestak. Sestak rebuffed the Obama White House offers and defeated Specter in the primary. And then it was Messina’s turn to play party politics from the Oval Office.
The Colorado Independent reported on August 29, 2009, that Andrew Romanoff planned to challenge Colorado Democratic Senator Michael Bennet in the 2010 Democratic Primary. According to the Associated Press in June, 2010, Messina allegedly called Romanoff on September 11, 2009, and suggested that Romanoff’s time might be better spent working for the U.S. Agency for International Development instead of running for the Senate. Romanoff released an email from Messina dated that same day listing three jobs that “would be available” if Romanoff were not running for the Senate against Bennet. Two of them were with USAID, the other was the position of director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. Romanoff rebuffed the Obama White House offers and was defeated by Bennet in the primary.
On June 15, 2010, we sent a complaint to then-Associate Special Counsel to the OSC Hatch Act Unit, William Reukauf, charging that both Messina and Emanuel “used their official authority for the purpose of affecting the result of an election.” We requested “an investigation into violations of the Hatch Act by Messrs. Messina and Emanuel.”
As I have said, the OSC failed to respond to the Judicial Watch complaint for nearly three years. So, finally, on May 23, 2013, we asked OSC Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner requesting “all information concerning the disposition of our request for investigation filed with the Hatch Act Unit on June 15, 2010, concerning federal employees Jim Messina and Rahm Emanuel.”
On May 30, 2013, we received Lerner’s letter informing us that because Emanuel and Messina had left government employment, “the complaints against Mr. Emanuel and Mr. Messina have been closed without further action.” I emphasize the word “further” because as far as anyone knows, no action was taken at all!
In fact, that’s what we told Lerner in a June 28 letter, pointing out that the OSC had failed to take any action whatsoever throughout the period Emanuel and Messina had remained federal employees. And, they had both remained government employees for a sufficient amount of time after the original complaint had been filed for OSC to have taken action. We also questioned the arbitrary “rule” under which OSC claimed they do not investigate wrongdoing after employees leave government employment. After all, neither man will be difficult to track down: Emanuel is now mayor of Chicago and Messina now runs Obama White House-allied Organizing for America and is a political consultant.
There is indisputable evidence that Emanuel and Messina – both Obama White House officials at the time — attempted to manipulate federal elections in at least two states. And that is a clear violation of the law. Yet, instead of investigating Judicial Watch’s very serious allegations in a timely and thorough fashion, the Office of Special Counsel stonewalled the complaint and allowed the perpetrators to walk away without so much as a question. Now, the OSC is violating the Freedom of Information Act it is charged with enforcing by refusing to respond to the Judicial Watch FOIA request. Perhaps the OSC needs to begin investigating itself. And, in the meantime, we’ll see them in court.
Veterans Administration Scandal Gets Washington’s Attention
Much of the mainstream media is ablaze with the latest Obama administration scandal, this one involving Veterans Administration (VA) waiting lists that have allowed scores of military veterans to die while forlornly awaiting long-promised treatment. In fact, not only did the Obama VA leave stricken military heroes sick and dying, it went so far as falsify information about the treatment of veterans it left languishing. And the president’s response, of course, was his usual, “I only know what I read in the papers” – despite the fact he was informed of the problem five long years ago and had made VA issues a centerpiece of his election campaign in 2008.
Just as you might expect, however, while Obama has been hiding out in the Oval Office watching the news, Judicial Watch has been at work uncovering the truth about the VA scandal. And, in fact, our investigation began way back in February – long before most of the mainstream media even noticed there was a problem. We will provide you full details of our investigation as it continues to unfold.
But, let me take just a few minutes now to give you an overview: The scandal first came to public notice when Dr. Sam Foote at the Phoenix Veterans Administration retired and began to make detailed allegations that patients in Phoenix, AZ, were placed on a secret waiting list and that several of them died while awaiting care. And by most reports, this Arizona issue is just the tip of the iceberg.
I want to personally assure you that your Judicial Watch is on top of this devastating scandal. And we will reveal much more information in the days and weeks to come. Just as with the Benghazi scandal, which Judicial Watch blew wide open two weeks ago, the VA Death List scandal has left the Obama administration with blood on its hands. And we are not going to allow the president to cover his tracks in newsprint.
It is a sad state of affairs in our nation that Memorial Day must now include honoring those veterans who died as a result of government corruption and malfeasance in the very federal agency charged with their care.
To honor our heroic dead, I thought it appropriate, as we did last Memorial Day in the Update, to reprint another portion of the May 5, 1868, Memorial Day proclamation (General Orders No. 11) by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, who declared we should honor our war dead and their sacred resting places:
All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.
Tom Fitton – President