’s “Anonymous Shopper” feature actually worked, shelved by Obama Administration anyway


By Dave Andrusko

CMS Deputy Chief Information Officer Henry Chao

CMS Deputy Chief Information Officer Henry Chao

A tip of the hat to Ed Morrissey over at for alerting readers to a CNN exclusive—“Key part of passed test, but Anonymous Shopper shelved anyway.”  Here’s how Morrissey explains the significance of CNN’s report:

“Why is this CNN exclusive important? The ObamaCare website forced Americans to create accounts before looking at prices and plans, which for the first several weeks they couldn’t access anyway. HHS officials told Congress that the part of the website that would have allowed people to see plan and pricing data wasn’t provided because it failed its tests, but documents obtained by CNN show it was one of the few functions that actually worked as planned.”

So what is an “Anonymous Shopper” (in this context) and why was/is it important? If it was working—which it still isn’t—it would allow visitors to come to the website and compare health insurance plans “without opening an account, verifying their identity or determining whether they qualify for a federal subsidy,” CNN explained. “The tool was turned off before launched and is still unavailable to users.” It is, CNN continued, “the website feature that best resembles President Barack Obama’s frequently stated vision for the website — that it operates as the most popular e-retail sites millions of Americans use every day.”

Assuming you could actually log on, this feature is a huge aid. Huge.

Beyond that, there is the whole question of (how can I put this delicately?) honesty. Henry Chao, the top technology officer for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, told lawmakers that the online window shopping was shelved because the feature “failed so miserably that we could not conscionably let people use it.”

But as Morrissey quipped, “First, let’s point out the laughably absurd proposal that HHS found any function within to have ‘failed so miserably that we could not conscionably let people use it.’”

More to the point, CNN reported that

“a CMS document made public by the same committee last week tells a different story. The agency and one of its subsidiaries, the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, was working with government contractors on the website. It determined the Anonymous Shopper feature ‘tested successfully,’ revealed ‘no high severity defects open’ and that ‘remaining lower severity defects will not degrade consumer experience.’”

Instead federal health officials told the contractor responsible to create the Anonymous Shopper feature to concentrate instead on “Plan Compare,” according to CNN. “’Plan Compare’ allows users to look at health insurance plans only after they have created an account at, verified their identification and provided qualification details for a subsidy.”

CNN Senior White House Correspondent Brianna Keilar, concludes her story

“Seven weeks after’s launch, the Anonymous Shopper tool is still shelved.

“At the federal government’s order, the contractor responsible for it, CGI, is not even working to ready it, a source close to the project tells CNN.

“HHS would not provide an estimate of when the window shopping feature will be available.”