Judicial Watch may be first to know the most about healthcare.gov information that the government has been keeping secret. Under court order, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has begun giving documents to the conservative watchdog group.
Like Judicial Watch, I filed numerous Freedom of Information (FOI) requests with HHS last fall when it became clear that government agencies were withholding public information after the website’s disastrous Oct. 1, 2013 launch. While the government has yet to respond properly to my FOI requests, Judicial Watch’s experienced legal team got busy and filed suit against the government for its lack of response.
“The minute it was clear there were problems, we started doing FOI’s on the website,” says Christopher Farrell, Judicial Watch's Director of Investigations & Research. “We literally have dozens of FOI’s pending related to healthcare.gov.”
Judicial Watch filed its original healthcare.gov-related FOI on Oct. 7, 2013.
“There was no denial/appeal, HHS just never responded beyond acknowledging the request on Oct. 30,” says Farrell.
The lack of response is typical of the way the government has increasingly mishandled FOI requests in recent years and mirrors the experience reported by many journalists. Judicial Watch filed its initial lawsuit against HHS on Nov. 25, 2013. On April 29, 2014, the court ordered HHS to produce certain documents.
Judicial Watch sued the State Department over withheld public documents regarding the Benghazi terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2012. On April 29, 2014 Judicial Watch released 41 new documents that the court ordered the State Department to produce.
The State Department documents included material that contradicts Obama administration accounts and revealed significant White House involvement in directing the so-called talking points toward the mistaken narrative of spontaneous protesters rather than preplanned terrorism. Shortly after the revelations, the House of Representatives voted to convene a special Select Committee to investigate the Benghazi issue.
Federal agencies such as HHS and the State Department spend your tax dollars in their efforts to withhold public information that's requested under FOI law. And when the agencies lose their cases in court, they may be ordered to reimburse groups like Judicial Watch for legal fees. The federal agencies use your tax dollars for that, too.
In other words: for the government, there’s no downside to flouting FOI law. At the very least, the feds manage to delay the release of potentially damaging information. At most, they may have to eventually produce the withheld material and pay legal fees—but they pay with your tax dollars.
Farrell says his group is reviewing the new healthcare.gov documents. Among them, he says, is an Oct. 2013 email that celebrates the fact of two enrollments.
Since the disastrous launch of healthcare.gov, the Obama administration has claimed many “success stories” and achievements, including exceeding its enrollment goal of 7.1 million people by April first and eight million by April 17.
However, the government continues to withhold information that would allow independent analysts to check the numbers.
Critics have questioned the government’s claims of success, noting that not all of the "enrollees" are actually enrolled in a plan because some haven’t paid, and not all of the enrollees were previously uninsured since an “estimated five million” people were forced out of their plans by Obamacare in the first place.