HHS’ Burwell Caught Low-Balling Congress on Cost of Healthcare.gov
A new report by Bloomberg Government indicates that Sylvia Burwell, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), gave a potentially misleading answer when she told Congress that Healthcare.gov – the federal government’s ObamaCare portal – cost taxpayers $834 million to build.
Nicole Kaeding at the CATO Institute teases out some of the unstated, but related, costs that balloon the overall price tag to $2.14 billion, far north of Burwell’s testimony.
I’ve summarized them here as bullet points:
- $300 million contract to process paper applications to serve as backups to electronic files
- $387 million for real-time interfacing between the IRS and Healthcare.gov to verify income and family size for insurance subsidy calculations
- $400 million in accounting tricks HHS used to pay for creating Healthcare.gov when 26 states refused to take federal start-up grants to build their own. Congress made no appropriations to build Healthcare.gov, so HHS shifted money from other units to fund the project.
- $255 million in spending between February 2014 – the end of Burwell’s timeline – and August 20, 2014, the most recent information available. Bloomberg also included projected spending at current levels through September 30, 2014, the end of the fiscal year.
These are the kinds of expenses that Members of Congress would expect the HHS Secretary to include when testifying about full cost of a program. The fact that Burwell gave a low-ball estimate when these figures were easily accessible to her or her staff weakens her credibility as an honest broker of information. As her departing colleague Eric Holder knows, once Congress loses its ability to trust a Cabinet official, the gloves come off.