WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a House committee Wednesday that the blame lies with her for the glitches plaguing the HealthCare.gov website.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee held its second hearing related to the health care exchange website problems – and there were still glitches with the site during the hearing. Committee chairman and Michigan Congressman Fred Upton said he found an error message on the website’s registration page on the morning of the meeting. The HealthCare.gov registration page stayed down throughout the 3 1/2 hour hearing.
Upton warned the committee and Sebelius that Americans are losing trust, and “soon they may worry about being on the wrong side of their government facing penalties,” if they cannot sign up through the glitch-prone websites.
He said “disillusioned” Americans may continue to lose faith in the government insurance exchanges.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Sebelius said in her opening summary statement and told the committee that by the end of November that such issues will be dealt with.
Sebelius told the committee that the blame should be put on her for the problems the website has been experiencing since its Oct. 1 launch.
“Hold me accountable for the debacle. I am responsible,” Sebelius said.
Despite the glitches, Sebelius says the website “has never crashed.”
“It is functional but at a very slow speed and very low reliability,” Sebelius said.
Sebelius did admit, though, that the website was not ready for its Oct. 1 launch.
“I was told we were ready to launch on October 1. Clearly I was wrong. We were wrong,” Sebelius said.
Sebelius stated that over the past few weeks millions had visted the HealthCare.gov website, and nearly 700,000 applications had been submitted to the federal and state marketplaces nationwide.
California Democrat and committee sub-chair Henry Waxman told his colleagues to “stop hyperventilating” and focused on what is working and not what is not.
Waxman said, “The early glitches in this rollout will soon be forgotten,” and asked the committee to “keep this in perspective: The Affordable Care Act is working.”
Waxman stated that more than 100 million Americans have access to free preventive coverage and no longer face lifetime limits on their coverage.
“The worst abuses of the insurance industry will be halted,” he said. “Never again will individuals see their premiums shoot up because they got sick or faced an unforeseen medical issue.”
He stated that 60 percent of Americans will be able to get coverage for less than $100 per month.
Sebelius, the former governor of Kansas, opened by defending the Affordable Care Act, saying that many private sector contractors “have not met expectations,” and reiterated issues with the Verizon network servers.
“It isn’t fair for the American public to take our word for it, but I am confident,” the site will be “optimally functional” by Nov. 30, Sebelius said.
In a heated exchange, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., asked Sebelius if President Barack Obama was keeping his promise to Americans whose plans are being terminated.
Blackburn referenced “300,000 in Florida whose plans are terminated,” and a couple in her district who, “had a plan, they liked it, it was affordable, and now they don’t have health insurance.”
Sebelius responded that insurance companies commonly cancel plans each year, and now Americans “can shop around in the marketplace, they absolutely will have new coverage. In all deference to the press corps, I think that it’s important to be accurate about whats going on here…they will have new plans.”
“Some people like to drive a Ford and not a Ferrari,” responded Blackburn. “You’re taking away their choice.”
Blackburn continued her questioning: “Can you give me a ballpark of how much was spent on a website that does not work?” asked vice chair Blackburn, requesting a detailed expense report.
Sebelius said that $118 million was spent on the HealthCare.gov website, with $56 million going toward technical support.
Making a Wizard Of Oz reference, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said that there was a “parallel universe” between he and his Democrat colleagues, stating that Sebelius’ prior experience as a governor was not applicable to the ACA.
“We’re not in Kansas anymore,” said Barton.
Barton pressured her for testimony ensuring “the highest security standards,” noting a clause in the legislation that suggested health information could be at risk for privacy concerns.
Sebelius responded that she and the program are absolutely committed to the privacy of the American public, and said “we should be held accountable.”
Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., ridiculed the questioning from Barton, stating that he and the Republicans continue “to sabotage the ACA, to scare people, and to bring up a red herring.”
Pallone reiterated that insurance companies will no longer be able to sell “skeletal” and “lousy” policies to Americans any longer under the ACA, and rebuffed Barton’s comments by stating that the banning of discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions will actually allow more privacy protections for consumers.
Continuing with the issue of privacy, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., ridiculed the program as unsafe for private information, stating that functionality concerns are indicative of a lack of privacy.
“If it’s not functioning, you know it’s not secure,” said Rogers. “You have exposed millions of Americans because you said it was “an acceptable risk.”
Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., questioned Sebelius why she won’t drop her coverage for Obamacare.
“I am not eligible for the exchange,” Sebelius replied.
Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., asked Sebelius if she would “commit to forego your government program to go into the exchanges like everybody else?” Asking again, “If you can, will you?’
Sebelius replied that she “will take a look at it,” and then added to Waxman, “I would gladly join the exchange if I didn’t have affordable care in my workplace.”
Before addressing Waxman’s statement, Sebelius could be heard saying, “Don’t do this to me,” to an aide next to her.