White House worried about HealthCare.gov crash, email shows

Henry Chao, deputy CIO and deputy director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Office of Information Services, testifies during a hearing before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee November 19, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong, Getty Images

The week before HealthCare.gov launched with major failures, officials in the White House were concerned the site could crash if it experienced high traffic, documents newly-released by a committee in the Republican-led House show.

The email exchange between administration officials, released by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is the latest evidence that the administration knew ahead of time that the Oct. 1 launch of the online Obamacare marketplaces could be problematic. Still, while they were preparing for hiccups in the rollout, it’s unclear from this email exchange if they anticipated the extent of HealthCare.gov’s problems.

Henry Chao, HealthCare.gov's chief project manager at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), wrote to CMS staff on Sept. 25 that CMS administrator Marilynn Tavenner and White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park had expressed concerns to him about the site a day earlier.  

“When Todd Park and Marilyn was here yesterday one of the things Todd conveyed was this fear the WH has about hc.gov being unavailable,” he wrote. “Todd does have a good point and I think we should have a more comprehensive answer as to how we will ensure high availability.”

Chao also predicted an onslaught of negative media coverage. Accompanied by an image of an error message on a computer screen, Chao wrote in the Sept. 25 email, “I am picturing in my mind all the major print and online publications taking screenshots of what is below and just ramping up the hyperbole about hc.gov not functional.”