October 30th, 2013
09:05 AM ET
11 months 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. maxmaxwell

    so this is ok, first hillary and benghazi, now this mess, holder and fast and furious, it's ok we said we were sorry.hahahahahahahahahaha impeach this community organizer and the circus they run.

    October 30, 2013 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  2. Josh

    Apology accepted

    October 30, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  3. Chuck, Anaheim Ca.

    Why do these old republicants even care if the website works? Just a couple of weeks ago they shut down the government to the tune of 24 BILLION dollars because they wanted to defund the ACA. The hypocrisy is mind-numbing. Maybe they should investigate that government shutdown debacle instead.

    October 30, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  4. Pfh

    Why is Ms Sebelius dancing around the health insurance companies canceling current policies and offering the insurance holder more expensive coverage? I know for a fact that my brother had healthcare coverage with BCBS for many years. Him and his wife received a letter canceling the current policy they have and offering another coverage
    that would increase more than $1,000.00 month. How can she say that people can shop around and find a cheaper policy-so far my brother has not found one!

    October 30, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  5. lmw1950

    She needs to apologize for Obamacare, not just the website problems.

    October 30, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  6. John

    Sounds like she's Obama's scape goat.

    October 30, 2013 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  7. ObamaFullODrama

    Who cares the web site works when our President LIES to the American people? 'Keep your plan. Period' a LIE to millions, liberal and conservative alike, who are losing health plans.

    October 30, 2013 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  8. Lil Sister

    Why are the republicans so steamed up with the website and everything else that has to do with President Obama? I, know the answer.

    October 30, 2013 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  9. Michael

    May I remind everyone that thinks about the ACA as being a "failed law" – While there is little doubt that the website problems are causing issues for anyone attempting to get into the Marketplace, and the misunderstandings that have occurred with regard to the "Grandfathering" of insurance policies already in effect (that, while affecting a couple of million people, is actually a small percentage of the total expected to benefit from the program), and any other problems that may crop up that will need attention before the ACA is FULLY IMPLEMENTED – the emphasized words are the key to my point that something has not "failed" until it has actually "failed". And in order to make that judgement: 1) A plan need to be "fully implemented" – something that will not occur for years yet, 2) Data will need to be reviewed after full implementation to ascertain whether the plan has actually worked as intended (again, this will be years from now), and 3) As a plan proceeds toward full implementation, further tweaks and even changes may be necessary to adjust for unforeseen circumstances, i.e., no plan, whether created by the government or otherwise, is ever perfect or foolproof. Obviously, the ACA is a monumental undertaking, and while many stand to benefit from it, there will be some that see little benefit, and perhaps may even see an increase in costs, and thus may hate the ACA. But that occurs with any plan, but the hope is that more will benefit than not. As for me, the idea that millions without medical insurance, or with inadequate coverage, will finally be able to obtain a decent plan without being concerned about things like pre-existing conditions, lifetime maximums, etc., far outweighs concerns right now, many that have been invented by the GOP due to a fear that the plan WILL ACTUALLY WORK, and the party will be left in the dust for years as people realize which party is actually "for the people" (and not only for the super-rich, including corporate America). As a result, we can expect that very little will be accomplished in Washington, at least for the next year, until possibly the 2014 election gives Democrats control of the House once again. Until then, expect the GOP to continue to fight the ACA until their fingers bleed, and until their last breath, for although they will not admit this now, they are not fighting the ACA to benefit the American people, as Scruz is often known to say. No, this is a fight for their very political lives, and should they continue to lose this fight, the repercussions will be seen for perhaps decades into the future.

    October 30, 2013 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  10. perry

    Obama didn't know he lied.

    October 30, 2013 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  11. John Keimig

    Thank you for the apology, Ms. Sibelius. Now let's all get back to work, lest we wind up having to apologize for our on-the-job performance some day...

    October 30, 2013 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  12. tamars

    Computer systems today are ALL rolled out too quickly – and with no beta testing with potential actual users. You should see what medical schools do with financial systems. someone at the "top" says "do this" and precious few have the integrity to say we can't do it that quickly. There's a lot of ignorance among directors, deans, presidents, BODs, etc. who don't care at all how it impacts the staff that have to use the ill-structured systems. computers are only as good as the people who put in the data – and the ability of people who build the systems to THINK before they begin and refuse to roll out until they are sure of as smooth as possible introduction. I was part of a computer conversion in the 70s that took three years to construct but it rolled out impeccably. Today computer people are arrogant and their inability to relate to human beings – which is why they are drawn to machines – is the main reason they fail today to provide QUALITY systems.

    October 30, 2013 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  13. nc1965

    If you have an IQ above 79, you know what's really going on here.

    Since Obama made his speech about "you can keep you insurance", insurance companies made adjustments to their plans in anticipation of Obamacare.

    They are now admitting that you have a 's h-i t t y' plan that you paid a fortune for. Now you are realizing that your plan doesn't qualify for Obamacare's higher standards. So what are they doing? Booting you off forcing you to pay for a higher 's h-i t t y' plan.

    So that part of our healthcare system hasn't changed, that is, denying coverage because of preexisting conditions. The preexisting condition? The coverage that you currently have doesn't qualify for Obamacare's standards. Well, this is capitalism folks.

    There should have been a public option to force insurance companies, just like auto insurance, to lower their prices. But Obama caved to Republicans and left it out.

    October 30, 2013 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  14. Petunia

    Obamacare will never be solvent unless the penalties are the same as the premiums. That of course, would alienate most of the citizens. Obamacare will destroy the health insurance industry and the healthcare system.

    October 30, 2013 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  15. cosmo

    Not enough..She needs to resign, a regular employee would of already been fired.

    October 30, 2013 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  16. liberal disease

    This is Obama's unworkable law, she shouldn't be apologizing for something that can and will not work ever!
    Put Barry up there!

    October 30, 2013 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  17. Melissa

    What is the real name of this health care that is supposed to help those who cant afford basic health service. Are those who are sooo angry about it the same ones who cant afford a doctor or are the ones who are soo angry already have health care.?

    October 30, 2013 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  18. spike

    Obama originates the lies and to make matters worse, Carney and Sebelius tell us the lies aren't really lies but the truth. They are truly appealing to the so called dupes, who listen to what is being said, and ignore whats really being done. It takes a very compromised person to repeat lies over and over when the headlines scream the truth. They make a mockery of themselves.

    October 30, 2013 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  19. Bill

    Hey great job ! Now my Heath insurance company has dropped my coverage ! Everything I'm seeing is double the cost.

    October 30, 2013 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  20. daviddavid

    TO Chuck, Anaheim Ca
    Harry Reid is not being truthful it is really very simple. Obama Harry Reid and the Democrats do not feel the need for truth. After all Obama and Harry Reid and the Democrats have managed to get their sheep to believe a falsehood. The House of Representatives delivered a couple of budgets to Harry Reid and the Senate and they were rejected by Harry Reid in other words the House of Representatives did their constitutional duty Harry Reid said I don't like it thus shutting down the government. If one part of the government does it's job and the other part refuses it is the part who refuses that is responsible for the ensuing shutdown only a dyed in the wool Kool-Aid drinking lemming would believe otherwise. The House of Representatives was and is under no legal requirement to give the Senate or the president what they desire in a budget.

    October 30, 2013 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  21. Brian Wilkin

    I would rather accept your resignation, than your apology.

    October 30, 2013 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  22. MJ

    OK, now she needs to appologize for the law in general.

    October 30, 2013 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  23. want our money back

    stop bickering about how the GOPP reacts – you always complain about that, yet look at what the current administration is NOT doing...

    The website release was suppose to be the period at the end of the sentence which stated, we the American people may not all agree on how healthcare was to be addressed, yet here it is – and was to be the beginning of a new. Yet, it turned out to be an exclamation point at the end of a lie.

    so, I think the GOP deserves, as does anyone, who just got their collective pocketbooks picked; a right to kick, yell and scream at those who stole that money... and it was stolen...

    I could have held a committee meeting for a lot less then 200 million and forfeiture of our rights (the biggest cost)

    October 30, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  24. PlymouthEngineer

    I usually vote Dem, even though I am an independent, Ms Sebelius is complete disgrace and should resign immediately. This is the Presidents (whether you like it or not,Obamacare doesn't affect me) baby, and this clown didn't even beta test the website. Never mind the last minute change forcing people to create an account before prices were shown, this was also a scummy marketing ploy. I am disgusted with Obama and the incompetent diversity hires he has surrounded himself with.

    October 30, 2013 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  25. Tampa Tim

    The Fox viewers are stuck on the part about keeping plans that conform to the law. You know, the law that says no caps, you can't get kicked off for getting sick, and you can be insured even if you have pre existing conditions. 2 million have junk plans that are not worth the paper they were written on, and those people will get better care. Of course, if you live in a red state, you get nothing but the same old crap.

    October 30, 2013 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
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