October 30th, 2013
09:05 AM ET
5 years ago

Highlights: Sebelius on the hot seat

Washington (CNN) - They want her fired and the health care reforms she champions dismantled, Wednesday Republicans got their chance to question Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over the rocky rollout of the Obamacare website, as she testified before a House Energy and Commerce Committee.

12:36 p.m. ET: The hearing ends
Hearing length: 3 hours 33 minutes.
Members of Congress who asked questions: 51.
When Sebelius apologized for the HealthCare.gov problems: a few minutes into the hearing, during her opening statement.
Number of members who referenced the Wizard of Oz: Three. (Sebelius is from Kansas.)

Most frequent topics:
– – The President’s past assertion that “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” and news that after 2010 some plans have been cancelled.
– – Whether the individual mandate should be delayed given the website problems and the delay in the employer mandate.
– – Who is to blame for: a) the lack of adequate testing (Answer: no one specific was named), b) the decision to make individuals register before they could browse plans (Answer: Michelle Snyder of CMS) c) the decision to launch the website when it wasn’t ready (Answer: Sebelius said she told the president the site was ready, based on staff guidance. She stressed that no one predicted the avalanche of problems that happened)

12:35 p.m. ET
After a sharp exchange with a Republican Congressman, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday she would "gladly join" the new health insurance exchange under Obamacare if she didn't have affordable coverage under the federal program for government officials.

12:32 p.m. ET
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Wednesday the decision to require people to sign up on the Obamacare website before they could shop for rates was "wrong." Outside contractors have said a change in plans shortly before the botched October 1 launch of the website prevented people from "window-shopping" without signing up, increasing the initial volume that officials cite as the main cause of the online problems. Sebelius said the decision to make the change came from Marilyn Tavenner, who heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in her department.

12:31 p.m. ET

To the best of your knowledge, has a man ever given birth to a baby? As the hearing moved toward its end, Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-North Carolina, asked Secretary Sebelius that question, aiming to highlight that some men may be forced to buy maternity coverage as part of an insurance package under Obamacare. Sebelius responded that some men do need maternity coverage for their spouse and family, who could be covered under their policy. Ellmers insisted this is an example of why health care costs are going up, insurance coverage that may not be necessary for everyone.

12:18 p.m. ET
By the way: While Sebelius was still getting grilled at the hearing, Roger Daltrey, lead singer of the legendary band “The Who,” was performing at an unveiling of a Winston Churchill bust in the Capitol Rotunda singing “Stand by Me” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

12:04 p.m. ET
A member of Congress has sparked some applause. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, blasted HHS Secretary Sebelius for not getting her own health care through the exchanges set up by Obamacare. Sebelius explained that by law she receives the Federal Health Employee Benefits plan, which includes most federal workers. Gardner held up a letter that he said was a cancellation notice for his family's police and as he continued to ask Sebelius why she herself wasn't in the exchange, some scattered but noticeable claps came from the crowded hearing room.

12:03 p.m.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that she told President Barack Obama the website for his signature health care reforms was "ready to go" for its October 1 launch, adding: "Clearly, I was wrong. We were wrong."

11:57 a.m. ET
An internal government memo obtained by CNN and written just days before the Obamacare open enrollment warned of a "high" security risk due to a lack of testing of the healthcare.gov website. "Due to system readiness issues, the (Security Control Assessment) SCA was only partly completed," according to the memo from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "This constitutes a risk that must be accepted and mitigated to support the Marketplace Day 1 operations."

11:56 a.m. ET
Rep. John Barrow, D-Georgia, is highly critical of and has repeatedly voted to limit Obamacare. He's a Blue Dog Democrat.

11:43 a.m. ET
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urged members of Congress on Wednesday to help inform their constituents about Obamacare, calling on them to raise awareness of available federal subsidies and make clear that people don't have to stay with the same company because they now have choice.

11:37 a.m. ET
Bad luck for the junior Congressmen on the committee. In an attempt to end the hearing on time, Committee Chair Fred Upton just announced that members will be now limited to two minutes of questioning each.

11:31 a.m. ET
A question about President Barack Obama sparked a seeming verbal exasperation from Secretary Sebelius. Rep. Greg Harper, R-Mississippi, repeatedly asked if Obama, as the chief executive, is responsible for the problems with HealthCare.gov. Sebelius demurred, insisting the website rollout was her responsibility. But on one final try, Harper stipulated, "it is the President's ultimate responsibility, is it not." She searched for words, saying, "you clearly ..." then added a rare "whatever." She concluded, "He is the President of the United States."

11:26 a.m. ET
Time check. A spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee tells CNN that about 15 more members are waiting to ask questions of Secretary Sebelius. At five minutes each, that would take well over an hour. The spokesman says initially the Secretary had asked to leave by noon, but the committee may ask her to stay longer.

11:19 a.m. ET
Who's the man with the mustache and red tie behind Sebelius? That's Mike Hash, who leads the HHS office of Health Reform. He is a key coordinator of policy between the White House and HHS and is a go-to briefer when Congress wants Obamacare answers. Off camera, Hash has passed a few notes to Sebelius during the hearing. He also has a resume line that may be a bonus today: he used to work as a staff member for this committee.
Mike Hash, head of HHS Health Reform office

11:03 a.m. ET

House Speaker John Boehner's office just sent out an e-mail questioning and making hay out of Sebelius' comment (at about 10:05 a ET) that "the website has never crashed". The e-mail includes a screen shot of the HealthCare.gov error message this morning.

11:00 a.m. ET
Because of the flawed launch of the Obamacare website, the administration expects the figure for initial enrollment "will be a very small number," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a House committee hearing Wednesday.

10:55 a.m. ET
Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, just mentioned a CNN.com story about the HealthCare.gov website being vulnerable to hackers. Since we are CNN.com, here's a handy link.

10:47 a.m. ET
About an hour and a half into the hearing, Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, became the 20th committee member, out of a possible 54 members who can participate, to ask questions of Sebelius.

10:46 a.m. ET
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee accused Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of putting private information of Americans at risk by failing to properly test security measures in the troubled Obamacare website."This is a completely unacceptable level of security," said Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, adding that if the website is not functioning, "you know it's not secure." Sebelius said testing occurs regularly, but told Rogers she would get back to him on whether any end-to-end security test of the entire system has ever occurred. Rogers responded that he knows there have been no such comprehensive security tests.

10:37 a.m. ET
States running their own Obamacare health insurance exchanges instead of turning them over to the federal government are "doing well," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a congressional committee Wednesday."Everything we hear is that they see the same demand, they are eager to enroll folks, and that is going smoothly."

10:29 a.m. ET

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that no "reliable, confirmed" information exists on how many people have signed up for Obamacare health coverage, rejecting a request from a Republican congressman that she allow insurance companies to release their figures. Sebelius reiterated earlier statements that figures on initial enrollment will be made public in mid-November.

10:26 a.m. ET
The outside contractors that built the troubled Obamacare website never recommended delaying the October 1 launch, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a House committee Wednesday. Her comments came in response to questions about an August report by one of the companies that cited problems.

10:21 a.m. ET
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a House committee Wednesday that "we did not adequately do end-to-end testing" of the troubled Obamacare website before its botched launch on October 1, adding that the various components "were not locked and loaded into the system" until mid-September.

10:10 a.m. ET
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that contracts with the private companies working on the Obamacare website do not have any "built-in penalties" allowing her department to charge them for disappointing or faulty work. However, she said the agency will not pay for work that is incomplete.

10:09 a.m. ET
The exchange a few minutes ago between Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pennsylvania and Secretary Sebelius hit on perhaps the widest number of issues with HealthCare.gov yet. In his five-minute questioning period, Pitts asked:

– Had Sebelius herself tried to signup on HealthCare.gov herself? Answer: she had an initial sort of dummy account. (It was not clear from her answer if she had tried to go through the process after the website was launched.)

– Who at the agency initially decided to require users to register before they could browse, a decision that may have caused some of the biggest problems in the first weeks? Answer: Marilyn Tavener, head of the Medicare & Medicaid Services.

– Did Sebelius think two weeks of testing before launching the site was enough? Answer: clearly not.

– When was Sebelius made aware of the problem? Answer: in August, contractor CGI Federal listed some problems and she understood they were fixing them.

– Did she know that in September some insurers recommended a delay? Answer: I wasn't in that meeting and I don't think anyone estimated the degree to which we have had problems.

10:06 a.m. ET
In a sharp exchange with a Republican congressman, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday she believed she could provide legislators with a list of insurers in federal exchanges set up under Obamacare that do not offer coverage for abortion services.

9:56 a.m. ET
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday she was confident the troubled Obamacare website would be running smoothly by November 30, adding "I have confidence, but it isn't fair to ask the American public to take our word for it."

9:51 a.m. ET
At 90 years old, Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, questioning Sebelius now, is the oldest member of Congress and was a teenager when Social Security was created. He has adamantly opposed Obamacare.

9:45 a.m. ET
A waiver of privacy rights on the Obamacare website was included in error and "will be taken down," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday, telling GOP Rep. Joe Barton of Texas that "we have asked them to remove that statement."

5 things we learned from Tuesday's hearing with Tavenner

9:44 a.m. ET
HHS Secretary Sebelius just said that someone named Michelle Snyder was responsible for coordinating HealthCare.gov prior to this week (when contractor CGI Federal took over). Who is that? Snyder is the top day-to-day manager for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Here's her bio.

Snyder's boss did not directly defend her but when Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, asked, "So is Michelle Snyder responsible for this debacle?", Sebelius responded "no". That's when the HHS secretary said that Congress should hold her (Sebelius) responsible.

9:35 a.m. ET
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday before a congressional committee that Republicans should "hold me responsible" for the problem-plagued Obamacare website.

9:33 a.m. ET
So far, the Sebelius hearing is going according to a classic Congressional script. The chairman from the opposing party opens with a question about one of the hottest issues, in this case Chairman Fred Upton, R-Michigan, asked about the fact that some Americans will not be able to keep their health care plans. Then the ranking member from the president's party, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, asks friendly questions to defend their position. Now, we watch to see if there will be any news, anything goes off script. Will Republican questions elicit any new information and will any Democrats become especially critical of the HealthCare.gov roll-out.

Three states tell insurers to cancel plans that don't comply with Obamacare

9:32 a.m. ET
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that people who bought their own health coverage before Obamacare was signed into law in 2010 can keep those policies if they choose under a "grandfather" clause included in the legislation. Her response to a question about people getting their policies canceled now defended promises by President Barack Obama that anyone who likes their health care plan can keep it, relying on the technicality that the coverage must pre-date the law. Asked if Obama was keeping his promise, Sebelius responded: "Yes, he is."

9:20 a.m. ET

What did the HHS Secretary just say? Here's a link to the eight pages of written testimony she submitted earlier this week.
Her spoken words to the committee were a shorter version.

Administration warned about site's trouble before launch

9:19 a.m. ET
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a House committee Wednesday that the "vast majority" of consumers will be able to shop online for health insurance under Obamacare by the end of November without the problems being experienced now.

9:17 a.m. ET
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized Wednesday to Americans for the "miserably frustrating experience" caused by problems with the Obamacare website.

9:15 a.m. ET
As Sebelius starts her testimony, HealthCare.gov is not working. The familiar error screen, "The system is down at the moment" appears.

9:13 a.m. ET
The top Democrat on a House committee examining Obamacare told a hearing Wednesday that the President's signature health care reforms mean that "the worst abuses of the insurance industry will be halted." Rep. Henry Waxman of California said the reforms mean better plans are available at lower premiums, and he urged Republican colleagues to "stop hyperventilating" about problems with the system's website.

Keep your plan? Maybe not

9:12 a.m. ET
Sebelius is taking the oath before the House Energy & Commerce Committee as many are watching to see if the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee will issue a subpoena for documents related to HealthCare.gov.

9:08 a.m. ET
Republican Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan opened Wednesday's hearing on Obamacare by the House Energy and Commerce Committee he chairs by saying news about the President's signature health care reforms "seems to get worse by the day," adding that "Americans are scared" and "may be losing their faith in the government."

9:04 a.m. ET
A congressional committee hearing Wednesday with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius facing questions about Obamacare has started.

Filed under: Congress • Health care • Kathleen Sebelius • Obamacare
soundoff (268 Responses)
  1. Gurgyl

    Could we stop this drama by GOP guys. They lose in ensuing elections anyway. This is their spooky tactics. Yes, USA needs this ACA Law. So only Honerable SC Justice John Roberts upheld. God bless him dearly, and Obama. Period.

    October 30, 2013 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  2. O'drama ya Mama

    Republicans want this women fired for screwing up what they wanted to be screwed up from the start.

    October 30, 2013 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  3. Gurgyl

    GOP drama needs to be stopped at this juncture. SC upheld it.

    October 30, 2013 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  4. Scott

    Get ready for a hearing with another boss not taking any responsibility for anything.

    October 30, 2013 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  5. justino

    Obama has demanded the truth be known about Obmamcare and insists a name change effective immediately – Obamadontcare!

    October 30, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  6. Tampa Tim

    Salem witch trials, republican witch hunts. It sure takes the focus off the republican shut down and near default. $24 billion destroyed in a GOP hissy fit. Elected republicans should have at least a 4th graders' understanding of government, or not be able to go to congress.

    October 30, 2013 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  7. melodic-1

    The web site is flawed but that doesn't mean the program should be scrapped?! Republicans are the worst actors I have ever seen. You know they wanted this. Why don't we waste time on this so then maybe the public won't notice that we're building 20 Billion stealth destroyers while cutting food stamps for the poor.....you know because we're broke.

    October 30, 2013 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  8. DB

    Being grilled by a bunch of old men that haven't done an honest day's work in their lives!! Must be irritating.

    October 30, 2013 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  9. jim

    the talking points "Massachusetts site had problems early also" maybe but at the time facebook was limited to schools, twitter was just being created and amazon was expanding past books and music

    October 30, 2013 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  10. Cory111

    Poor Republicans, "Moaner & Groaners" that still can't accept the fact they can't win the White House. The only way they will get into the White House is on a tour.
    Hillary 2016

    October 30, 2013 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  11. Average Citizen

    When will we get the apology about the frustrating experience of obamacare itself?

    October 30, 2013 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  12. WillG

    The GOP are upset about a website not working and want someone's head to roll. The funny thing is, they are acting as if they supporedted the ACA...It's really sad that they have nothiing better to do with their time then to try and bully others. And to Justino...if President Obama did not care, we wouldn't have the ACA...good try though.

    October 30, 2013 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  13. Paula Bowker

    I would welcome affordable health care. However, it doesn't apply to me. I have insurance through my employer and just paid over $400 for my prescriptions. 3 of which have gone UP $40 since the last time I had them filled. If I did not have a flexible spending account for healthcare I would not have been able to afford to purchase my necessary medications.

    October 30, 2013 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  14. foxghostwriter

    She has a point. Any plans people had prior to 2010 were grandfathered in. Problem is most companies evaluate plans every year and switch plans. So many of the plans that are being cancelled are ones that probably were started after 2010.

    October 30, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  15. Bruce McClure

    There is ground truth somewhere in there. How about a clever reporter tracking down some of these actual people who are losing their coverage and finding out just EXACTLY what they had, what their situation is, and what their new options are? Only then can we get the entire story.

    October 30, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  16. ThinkAboutIt

    We have a government that wants to manage Universal Insurance that can't even manage a website... Medicare is going broke, the website is broke, and we are suppose to believe that the Universal Insurance is going to work?

    October 30, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  17. Rob

    Funny, after the democrats refuse to negotiate, and cause a shut down of Government, they then turn around and vote for a delay in the individual mandate; which was EXACTLY WHAT THE REPUBLICANS WERE ASKING FOR.
    So I ask you now who were the Terrorists, Extortionists, and hostage takers? The Democrats.
    And isn't it amazing the lies that are coming out about Obama and his clan?

    They knew 11-14 million americans would be dropped from their private health insurance. They knew the website was bad. How about this one.... Michelles room mate in college is a Senior VP for the company who made 600 million dollars from this screwed up web site.

    Of course I would never think that a liberal would listen to the truth. In the world of a Liberal it is all butterflies, and rainbows. But then there is the real world, and you can't escape from it.

    October 30, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  18. Tampa Tim

    The same right wingnuts who pleaded with democrats to give Bush Medicare D time to work out the glitches. The dems sat down and helped make it better and in 6 months the site was running. Now these same right wingnuts are doing exactly what they begged that the dems not do.

    October 30, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  19. jeff

    I guarantee you CAN KEEP the plan you have now. LIES,LIES and MORE LIES from OBOZO and the demorats.

    October 30, 2013 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  20. bigdumbdinosaur

    It's the Peter Principle again. Everyone rises to their own level of incompetence.

    October 30, 2013 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  21. Sheila

    How many thousands of people BETA tested this thing? They knew millions would use it...

    October 30, 2013 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  22. Rudy NYC

    Duh. The Patient Protections mean everyone's plan will change to one degree or another. How much and how so, is up to the individual private insurers and the coverage of your current plan. This has been pointed out all along.

    October 30, 2013 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  23. Bill the Cat

    Now if we can just get them to realize that they need to apologize for Obamacare itself, then we will be making progress.

    October 30, 2013 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  24. Bobbi

    liberals at their best in all the comments so far. Wake up! Who do you think funds the government???? Working Americans...not food stamp, wic and baby mamas

    October 30, 2013 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  25. Woody's Hay

    So nobody got fired when the Repugs' / Bush's Medicare part D had all kinds of problems and was so complicated that people can make careers from explaining it to its users ... oh, wait ... "complexity" is only an issue when it's a Dem's project.

    October 30, 2013 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
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