Adding his voice to a rising chorus of criticism, a Democratic assemblyman called on Wednesday for a legislative investigation of a health care website created by California Republicans.
Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, became the latest California Democrat to assail a website he says Assembly Republicans created to amplify critiques of the law, rather than help Californians enroll in insurance via Covered California, the state's newly operational exchange. Gomez has sent the Assembly Rules Committee a letter asking them to investigate.
In a statement released earlier Wednesday, California Democratic Party Chair John Burton said the website demonstrated "Republicans in California have no qualms about following their national Party's lead when it comes to spreading misinformation about the Affordable Care Act."
A click on the site's "I don't have insurance" tab - much larger than a small box linking to the Covered California site that was not initially on the main page - leads to information about IRS penalties for consumers who don't obtain coverage. The main page displays links to articles about people losing their health insurance or their doctors.
The California Attorney General's office has already moved against dummy websites meant to mimic the real Covered California portal, shuttering ten such sites in November. With those sites, the concern was that consumers would be enticed toward private insurance plans not offered on Covered California, sidestepping the vetting and approval process.
Gomez invoked a separate 2012 law barring anyone from claiming to represent or provide services via the state exchange if they haven't been cleared to do so. Even if the website does not run afoul of that law, Gomez said the Assembly Rules Committee should still look into whether Republicans adequately disclosed the website's intent.
"I respect any legislator's right to have a different perspective, to advocate their own belief, but then they have to be upfront about what they are advocating for," Gomez said. adding that "it's obvious that the Republican caucus was not interested in getting information to the citizens of California."
A spokeswoman for Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, brushed off what she dubbed "manufactured Internet outrage" about the site and said it is focused on informing Californians about the broad repercussions of health care reform, rather than on connecting consumers to insurance plans.
"Covered California has a different purpose," spokeswoman Sabrina Lockhart said. "Its purpose is to help people purchase insurance or sign people up for Medi-Cal. It's not an informational site with general information about the Affordable Care Act."
Assembly Republicans have made clear their opposition to the federal health care overhaul, Lockhart said. But that skepticism has not stopped the website's architects from adding a link to Covered California to the front page in response to feedback from site visitors asking why such a link wasn't more prominent, Lockhart said.
Lockhart confirmed that four lawmakers sent their constituents mailers directing them to the website. The Rules Committee reviewed and approved the mailers, Lockhart said.
As the federal health insurance website has endured a rocky launch beset by technical issues, discouraging people trying to obtain insurance and intensifying criticisms of the implementation of President Barack Obama's preeminent policy achievement, California's exchange has performed better.
Nearly 80,000 people signed up for coverage via the state exchange during the first seven weeks of open enrollment, a period stretching from the start of October to mid-November, according to Covered California officials.
PHOTO: A screenshot of coveringhealthcareca.com taken on the morning of Wednesday Dec. 4, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Jeremy B. White