WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s health agency said it has spent $319 million building an online health- insurance marketplace through October.
More than three years after the passage of Obama’s signature health-care law in 2010, it’s almost impossible to verify and track that spending through public records.
What the estimates don’t include is the around-the-clock effort to repair the website, which hundreds of thousands of Americans found unusable after its Oct. 1 debut. The race to fix it brought in computer engineers from companies such as Google, Red Hat and Oracle and is ongoing today.
The figures include what has been paid to contractors, according to Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the health department. The spending details should be accessible on public websites intended to offer government transparency. Instead, the sites present incomplete and sometimes contradictory data, according to open government advocates.
“The administration hasn’t been transparent about enrollment figures, costs and other key metrics — almost everything they release has a qualifying asterisk with a built- in spin,” Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight committee, said in an emailed statement. ” ‘The most transparent administration in history’ is as much of a punch line as ‘if you like your plan, you can keep it.’”
Obama ordered federal officials to “usher in a new era of open government” during his first days of office in 2009. As a senator, he proposed legislation that would have let the public view copies of contracts online — information that still isn’t available.
“We expected a lot more out of the Obama administration based on his platform, his use of social media and his desire to provide better access to government information,” said Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington-based nonprofit watchdog group. “We’re still crawling, and we really expected to be running at this point when it comes to transparency.”
The administration “is committed to transparency in federal spending and has taken unprecedented steps to increase the public’s ability to access accurate and timely information about how taxpayer dollars are being spent across the government,” Emily Cain, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, said in an email.
The Department of Health and Human Services will continue “to work diligently to accommodate the numerous and far- reaching congressional oversight requests regarding the Affordable Care Act,” Joanne Peters, an agency spokeswoman, said in an email.
The Government Accountability Office, Congress’s investigative arm, is trying to estimate the costs of repairing the website, David Powner, director of information technology management issues, said in a phone interview.
Healthcare.gov, where people can shop for private health plans with the help of government subsidies, serves residents in 36 states, while the 14 remaining states operate their own insurance exchanges. Powner said the costs to improve healthcare.gov are “probably in limbo.”