The Case of the Vanishing Obamacare Girl

By Garance Franke-Ruta
A familiar face was gone from the homepage of Healthcare.gov on Sunday.

Where'd she go?

The smiling young woman whose visage for more than three weeks greeted visitors to Healthcare.gov has vanished from the site. Gone with her are the middle-aged Asian women and other faces that frequent visitors to the site have come to know. All have been replaced by additional instructions and information designed to answer health-insurance shoppers' questions and direct them to the three other ways they can begin the process of getting insurance other than the website they are looking at.

The now vanished face of Healthcare.gov

The identity of the woman who became the face of Obamacare had become a subject of much speculation since the site launched October 1. BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski and Ellie Hall recently detailed their attempt to find her identity. The closest they could get was a statement by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokesman Richard Olague that “The woman featured on the website signed a release for us to use the photo, but to protect her privacy, we will not share her personal or contact info with anyone.”

On Sunday, a Daily Caller associate editor said his publication had solved the mystery a month ago. "DontPanic @BuzzFeedAndrew @ellievhall We solved biggest mystery ever on earth like a month ago http://bit.ly/1bsoF42," Christopher Bedford tweeted.

Bedford pointed to a late September Daily Caller piece that identified a woman in other Healthcare.gov advertising as the sister of an HHS official based on the blog item "Alejandra’s story." It was written for the exchanges' pre-launch blog by her sister, Mayra Alvarez, director of Public Health Policy in the Office of Health Reform at the Department of Health and Human Services. Mayra Alvarez also wrote about her baby sister Alejandra for NBC Latino at the end of April, detailing the high costs the California college student faced for routine check-ups as a healthy young person and arguing that she was a perfect example of why people would appreciate the Affordable Care Act exchanges when they came online. The item was reprinted on the White House blog in May as "A Big Sister's Advice: Get Covered."

"Alejandra and sister" was an image emailed out by HHS—and also used by Mayra Alvarez to talk about her younger sister.

Despite Bedford's claim and the superficial resemblance, Alejandra is not the woman who was the face of Healthcare.gov, according to the feds.

"The person who was on the website was not Mayra's sister," an HHS official emailed The Atlantic

The official remained mum about the woman's identity, but did explain why she and others are now off the site. "In terms of the changes, HealthCare.gov is a dynamic website. As with all websites, we try to make meaningful enhancements and improvements that will help users understand key information, while maintaining the overall familiar design and navigation elements that are working well," the official said. "As we move from the initial launch of the Marketplace into the continuing Open Enrollment, we wanted to highlight that there are multiple options to apply for health coverage, as we’ve done in many of our communications over the last week."

And so the mystery remains.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/10/the-case-of-the-vanishing-obamacare-girl/280900/