One aspect of the botched HealthCare.gov launch that I am still totally unable to wrap my mind around is how did no one know that this would happen (see here, here, and here). The President didn’t know. Secretary Sebelius didn’t know. Apparently, many who testified before Congress didn’t know. Even after it launched, it seemed that many within the government were still unaware of the underlying problems, and blamed the crashes on a surge of traffic. It took a few days, maybe even a week before ht governm
Recent developments have added to my confusion. The Hill FOIA’d Secretary Sebelius’ schedules for the time leading up to the launch of healthcare.gov. It turns out she was in constant contact with many people.
Sebelius said the President was totally unaware of these problems.
Since last fall, when lawmakers began calling for her ouster, Sebelius has maintained that Obama was in the dark about the glitches that plagued HealthCare.gov.
“No, sir,” Sebelius told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta on Oct. 22 when asked if the president knew of problems before the site’s launch.
Obama has similarly said that he wasn’t aware of any issues.
“On the website, I was not informed directly that the website would not be working the way it was supposed to. Had I been informed, I wouldn’t be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great,” Obama said in a Nov. 14 press conference.
Yet she visited the White House many times leading to the launch:
The documents reveal that Sebelius met with or attended calls and events with Obama at least 18 times between Oct. 27, 2012, and Oct. 6, 2013, including at least seven instances in which the two were scheduled to discuss the new healthcare law, according to the secretary’s draft schedules.
She had breakfast or lunch with Pete Rouse, considered one of Obama’s closest advisers, at least three times. Moreover, Sebelius had scheduled calls or meetings with Valerie Jarrett, an Obama confidante, and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.
Sebelius also met with or had calls with Chris Jennings, then a White House senior healthcare adviser, at least seven times in the roughly yearlong period.
The schedules suggest Sebelius was an active White House presence in the months leading up to the botched rollout, and raise new questions about why Obama wouldn’t have known about the problems that were exposed on Oct. 1.
Unless Sebelius is a perjurer and pathological liar, I am inclined to believe her subordinates failed to tell her about the problems of the web site. Why they would this, and what the culture was concerning HealthCare.gov, is a lingering question.
Another interesting note is how Sebelius met with prominent ACA advocates in the media from Ezra Klein to Thomas Friedman.
The schedules show Sebelius also personally met with a handful of reporters in the run-up to the Oct. 1 ObamaCare launch.
She had coffee with former Washington Post reporter Ezra Klein on Aug. 2, and was part of a group of administration officials who met with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman on April 23.
Less than a month later, the Times ran a Friedman column about how the number of healthcare information startups was evidence ObamaCare “already appears to be surprising on the upside.” Friedman said in the piece that HHS connected him with the companies he profiled.
A frequent media contact for Sebelius was Atul Gawande, who writes about healthcare for The New Yorker. She spoke with Gawande by phone at least three times.
“As has been widely reported, in the months leading up to open enrollment, Secretary Sebelius met with a broad range of individuals and stakeholders to help get the word out about enrollment, and to spotlight our education and outreach efforts,” said HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters.