Emails show feds knew months ago ObamaCare site headed for delay

Are insurance customers actually being enrolled?


Newly released emails show officials designing the main ObamaCare exchange knew as early as August that the website catering to small businesses might have to be delayed -- though the administration did not announce the delay until shortly before the Oct. 1 launch. 

In one of the August emails, project manager Henry Chao responded to a proposal to delay the launch by writing: "Can we sign this with blood?" 

The details were included in a handful of emails released Friday by Republican lawmakers probing the troubled launch. The lawmakers charged that the communications offer more evidence that the administration kept quiet for months about urgent problems with the website. 

"As the paper trail broadens, we see more and more evidence that the administration was fully aware its signature health care law was not ready for prime time," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said. "The documents we are now reviewing tell a much, much different story than what officials testified to Congress." 

The emails pertained to the online SHOP Marketplace, which is meant for small businesses and has suffered a series of setbacks. The administration announced in late September that it was pushing off the launch until mid-November. But then one day before the Thanksgiving holiday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would push off online enrollment by another year. 

A statement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services claimed the email excerpts released Friday "are between a small group of individuals involved in a broader decision-making process, and they reflect one piece of many conversations about managing deliverables and communicating expectations." 

The statement said the emails "do not reflect final decisions made by more senior CMS officials." 

CMS claimed the final decision to delay enrollment was not made until mid-September. 

Chao, a top official at CMS, testified last month before the House Energy and Commerce Committee that he tends to "err on the side of caution" and can get "a little passionate in my emails." 

Chao, in the emails, made the "blood" comment after an exchange among officials with his department and contractor CGI Federal. 

Initially, a CMS official said he is "not recommending a delay." 

But on Aug. 6, Monique Outerbridge, director of the CMS Office of Information Services, wrote: 

"Guys, this is absolutely urgent and I need an answer on this today. If this is late we have to public announce we are late with a deliverable which means [CMS Administrator] Marilyn Tavenner and the Secretary will have to announce." 

CGI official Mark Calem then pitched a tentative schedule that would push off the full launch until Nov. 15. 

That's when Chao apparently asked if they could "sign this with blood" -- according to committee Republicans, CGI agreed to the dates. 

Republicans indicated they plan to grill Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about this and other issues when she testifies next week. 

On Friday, CMS officials began to provide details about another problematic issue for the rollout -- flawed data being sent from to insurance companies through what's known as 834 forms. 

Officials said as many as one in four of the forms may have had problems in October and November, but the error rate is now down to roughly one in 10. 

Officials said CMS is working with insurance companies to resolve the issue, and suggested people who think they have enrolled contact the insurer and pay the first month's premium to make sure. 

Fox News' Mike Emanuel and Wendell Goler contributed to this report.