Gary Cohen has got to go. Mr. Cohen, more than anyone else, is responsible for the failed launch of the president’s health care law. Unfortunately, he is protected by his obscurity and hidden by his anonymity.
During the ongoing display of the failure of the federally run health care website, Americans have rightfully asked a lot of questions. One of the most common is — who was in charge of this mess and who will be held responsible? Most of the people involved in the website’s construction have reported that seemingly no one was in charge and that this lack of leadership was the main reason for the failure of the project. What most of these contractor accounts leave out is that there is someone who was supposed to be in charge: Gary Cohen.
Not only did Cohen fail in that task, but he misled Congress and the American people throughout the process — that’s why I called for his resignation last week.
Cohen is the director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, a little known subsidiary of the Department of Health and Human Services. He has a very important job: implementing the insurance provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
Whenever a project failure is widely and openly cited for a lack of leadership and coordination, it should go without saying that the person in charge of leading the coordinating effort has clearly failed at their job.
Cohen and his lack of leadership are responsible for the failure of the exchanges last month. Not only has Cohen failed at his job, but he has repeatedly — knowingly or not — misled Congress and the American people.
In April, Cohen came before the Energy and Commerce Committee where I asked him about the idea of narrowing the scope of the Affordable Care Act. I specifically asked whether there were conversations occurring to limit or reduce the scope of the ACA to make it easier to implement. He flatly told me “No. We intend to implement fully the Affordable Care Act.”
A little more than two months later, major de-scoping of the ACA was announced when it was revealed that the employer mandate and income verification, among other things, would be delayed for at least a year.
Major policy changes of this nature weren’t sudden last-minute decisions; they required months of discussion and planning. Either Cohen purposefully lied to Congress about these discussions, or he was doing such a poor job that he wasn’t even included in the discussions.
On the eve of the website going live, Cohen testified once again before Energy and Commerce and again what he said turned out to be completely inaccurate. On Sept. 19, just 13 days before the start of the Affordable Care Act, I asked Cohen a simple question: “Will the enrollment process be ready Oct. 1 of this year?” He responded by saying:
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.