Carney says Obama was told about HealthCare.gov review in April

November 19, 2013
White House press secretary Jay Carney (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
White House press secretary Jay Carney (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

White House press secretary Jay Carney said President Obama was told in April about a review of HealthCare.gov's problems, but Carney declined to specify the details of the briefing.

A federally-commissioned review by McKinsey & Co. concluded in late March that the online enrollment system was risky because the design process was flawed, The Washington Post first reported Monday night.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Carney said, "The president received regular briefings on various aspects of implementing the [health care law], including the recommendations from this review and the steps that [agencies] had taken to address those recommendations."

Carney did not say what details of the assessment the president learned. The report included warnings that the call-in centers would not work properly if the online system was malfunctioning, and that insufficient testing would make it difficult to fix problems after the launch.

"As we have said many times now, I myself many times and others, and this has been frequently reported, flags were raised throughout the development of the Web site, as would be the case for any IT project of this size and complexity," he said. "Those issues, including the ones from six months before the launch, were in turn taken up by the development team housed at [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid]. But nobody anticipated the size and scope of the problems we experienced once the site was launched, as we've discussed repeatedly."

Two White House aides overseeing health-care policy at the time, Jeanne Lambrew and Mark Childress, were briefed on the report's finding in detail, according to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which gave the McKinsey presentation to The Post. Carney would not elaborate beyond that on Tuesday, saying "a variety of officials involved in the effort" learned about it.

Federal officials adopted several of the report's recommendations, taking steps such as increasing communication with states to ensure they were prepared, and funneling more resources to in-person helpers and the call center. The administration streamlined its decision making process for the project by the summer, the White House spokesman said.

At one point Fox News journalist Ed Henry, who pursued this line of questioning during the briefing, asked, "Then how was it turned out to be a disaster?"

Carney mocked the query, replying, "Well, Ed, again, because we're in the breaking news business, it turns out that today we've learned the Web site did not launch effectively."

A few moments later, Carney remarked that while the president was warned "there would be glitches, there would be problems, but that certainly we never expected, he was certainly not told, and nobody here was told, because there was not this expectation, that the site would perform as poorly as it did."

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Aaron Blake | November 19, 2013