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CBS Uncovers 'Serious', 'Incredibly Misleading' ObamaCare Website Price Quotes

President Obama likened HealthCare.gov to Kayak.com on the day the ObamaCare website went live, but the travel company wouldn't stay in business very long if it gave "incredibly misleading" price quotes, as Wednesday's CBS This Morning revealed about the federal health care website. Jan Crawford underlined how "in some cases, people could end up paying nearly double what they see on the website."

Crawford zeroed in on how the "shop and browse" feature on HealthCare.gov drastically underestimated prices for older citizens, in particular, and cited unnamed health care industry executives' appalled reaction to this latest problem: [MP3 audio available here; video below]

JAN CRAWFORD: The numbers for older Americans are even more striking. A 62-year-old in Charlotte, looking for the same basic plan, would get a price estimate on the government website of $394. The actual price is $634....industry executives we talked to literally could not believe the government is providing these estimates, which they said were useless, and could easily mislead consumers.

Anchor Charlie Rose trumpeted the "serious pricing problem with HealthCare.gov" in his introduction for the correspondent's report. Co-anchor Norah O'Donnell added that "a new online feature can dramatically underestimate the cost of insurance". Crawford picked up where her colleagues left off: "The administration announced it would provide a new shop and browse feature on Sunday. But it is not giving consumers the real picture. In some cases, people could end up paying nearly double what they see on the website."

The CBS journalist soon detailed the grossly inaccurate price quotes that came out of HealthCare.gov:

JONATHAN WU, HEALTHCARE ANALYST: Incredibly misleading for people that are trying to get a sense of what they're paying.

CRAWFORD: Industry analysts, like Jonathan Wu, point out the website lumps people only into two broad categories: 49 or under, and 50 or older. Prices for everyone in the 49 or under group are based on what a 27-year-old would pay. In the 50 or older group, prices are based on what a 50-year-old would pay.

We ran the numbers for a 48-year-old in Charlotte, North Carolina ineligible for subsidies. According to HealthCare.gov, she would pay $231 a month. But the actual plan on BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina's website costs $360 – more than a 50 percent increase. The difference: BlueCross BlueShield requests your birthday before providing more accurate estimates.

The numbers for older Americans are even more striking. A 62-year-old in Charlotte, looking for the same basic plan, would get a price estimate on the government website of $394. The actual price is $634.

Near the end of the segment, Crawford gave her anecdote about the anonymous health care executives who labeled the "shop and browse" feature "useless". She then added that the same people stated that "the website repeatedly states the actual prices could be lower, but it makes no mention they could be higher."

The CBS correspondent has been persistent in exposing the beyond problematic nature of the ObamaCare website since its launch. On the October 9, 2013 edition of CBS This Morning, she spotlighted the "disastrous" rollout of HealthCare.gov, and noted how "USA Today called the launch 'an inexcusable mess' and 'a nightmare'".

A week later, Crawford ballyhooed that the website was a "complete disaster", and contended that "the backlash, the criticism, the complete failure of this rollout" would get more attention if the partial government shutdown hadn't taken place. On Friday, the journalist zeroed in on the privacy risks surrounding the federal health care website, and noted that "glitches have, in fact, made the website unusable for most".

The full transcript of Jan Crawford's report from Wednesday's CBS This Morning:

CHARLIE ROSE: CBS News is uncovering a serious pricing problem with HealthCare.gov. It stems from the Obama administration's efforts to improve its health care website.

NORAH O'DONNELL: And a new online feature can dramatically underestimate the cost of insurance.

Jan Crawford is in Washington. Jan, good morning.

JAN CRAWFORD: Well, Norah and Charlie, the administration announced it would provide a new shop and browse feature on Sunday. But it is not giving consumers the real picture. In some cases, people could end up paying nearly double what they see on the website.

[CBS News Graphic: "Pricing Problems: CBS News Finds Misleading HealthCare.gov Feature"]

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (from Organizing For Action Internet video): The website has not worked as smoothly as it was supposed to.

CRAWFORD: As President Obama promises to fix HealthCare.gov, his administration is touting what it calls improvements in design – specifically, a feature that allows you to see plans now.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY (from White House briefing): Americans across the country can type in their zip code, and shop and browse.

CRAWFORD: But CBS News has learned the new shop and browse feature often comes with the wrong price tags.

JONATHAN WU, HEALTHCARE ANALYST: Incredibly misleading for people that are trying to get a sense of what they're paying.

CRAWFORD: Industry analysts, like Jonathan Wu, point out the website lumps people only into two broad categories: 49 or under, and 50 or older. Prices for everyone in the 49 or under group are based on what a 27-year-old would pay. In the 50 or older group, prices are based on what a 50-year-old would pay.

We ran the numbers for a 48-year-old in Charlotte, North Carolina ineligible for subsidies. According to HealthCare.gov, she would pay $231 a month. But the actual plan on BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina's website costs $360 – more than a 50 percent increase. The difference: BlueCross BlueShield requests your birthday before providing more accurate estimates.

The numbers for older Americans are even more striking. A 62-year-old in Charlotte, looking for the same basic plan, would get a price estimate on the government website of $394. The actual price is $634.

An HHS spokeswoman said it added the shop and browse feature to provide 'estimates of premiums without tax credits'.

Chini Krishnan's company helped design California's new health care exchange website. It requires people to enter their birth dates to get a real price quote.

CHINI KRISHNAN, GETINSURED.COM CEO: It's important that users have a proper, trustworthy, honest brand experience when they interact with HealthCare.gov. And I think – you know, providing accurate prices is an integral component of that.

CRAWFORD (on-camera): Now, industry executives we talked to literally could not believe the government is providing these estimates, which they said were useless, and could easily mislead consumers. They also say, Charlie and Norah, that the website repeatedly states the actual prices could be lower, but it makes no mention they could be higher.

O'DONNELL: Great reporting – Jan Crawford, thank you.

— Matthew Balan is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Matthew Balan on Twitter.