October 30th, 2013
09:05 AM ET
9 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. jboh

    The TEA/GOP croc tears show just how ridiculous they are. Instead of always trying to destroy/sabotage, try looking out for America instead of your Wall St/Koch roach puppet masters. They are an embarrassment w/their talk of shutdowns/default. Too bad their bubble doesn't include REAL Americans. REAL Americans have found out the hard way what happens when you default on your bills. You come out and see your car going down the road behind a repo agents tow truck. You end up living in a shelter. Sweep these treasonous clods into history's garbage dump in 2014.

    October 30, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  2. John A

    As a life long Independent, who votes Democrat in the National elections, closest I ever came to voting Republican is abstaining from voting for a Democrat or voting for and Independent, I look at ObamaCare as a fiasco from rollout to implementation. I thought I would be able to keep my existing insurance, wrong, what were the President's words. I am disgusted with the Democratic party, for implementing this; it is a fiasco, more important legislation could have been passed during the time of crisis when this was passed, it allowed the rise of the Tea Party and Republican control of the House. As such, I will abstain from voting Democrat in the next election and will seriously consider voting for a Republican representative, because it really makes not difference.

    October 30, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  3. Kerry Gentry

    20 million, or even 200 million visits to the website does not mean every web visitor is wanting Obamacare.

    For many Americans, website visits (at this point) are simply driven by a fear or curiosity to see how much it’s going to hurt them financially. How ridiculous to make such an assumption that it’s an indicator confirming that the “American people are looking for quality, affordable health coverage”. On the contrary, I’ve heard people say they just want to find out if they would be better off just taking the fine.

    October 30, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  4. Uncle Genie

    I don't get it. The Obamacare website my browser pointed to seems to be working fine-except that "Obamacare" is a web trap for some private insurance broker. Twenty years from now, when there is finally universal health care in this so-called civilized nation, the Republicans will rue the day they let it become known as Obamacare; they have already delivered to this President his greatest legacy. Still, CNN's common use of the term, rather than Affordable Care Act, Including non-quote attribution to Administration officials, is a disservice of yellow journalism over accuracy. Frankly. I'm surprised at CNN's lack of journalistic integrity; I'd thought better of the company.

    October 30, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  5. ru serious

    what a mess, such total incompetence from the top down. But no worries, the media will sugar coat the whole thing and direct our attention elsewhere so as to not damage their golden boy.

    October 30, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  6. carl nelson

    The Apollo program would have ended January 27, 1967 with the tragic Apollo 1 fire if we treated the effort to go to the moon with the same disdain we approach universal access to healthcare.

    October 30, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  7. Gunderson

    No!,
    Old Gunderson see somewhere Web Site Work as long as no more than 6 get on at a time. Now that Progress!

    October 30, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  8. tim

    2 million Americans have already been kicked off their health care plans. Obama lied.

    October 30, 2013 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  9. John Bird

    It's shameful how far we've come from the days of Truman and 'The Buck Stops Here'.

    Apparently nothing stops at Pres Obama's desk.

    October 30, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  10. Barbara Watkins

    I am listening to this and here is the facts as found on the web in Alabama. First, we do not have choices in Alabama. We are only offered Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. As written on the Healthcare.gov website, the costs for a gold plan for a husband and spouse is about 600.00 a month. When I tried to get a policy directly through BCBS my costs were less and subject to underwriting. First of all, this is rediculous for a couple to have to pay, because it is over 45% of our income, and while we may be offered tax incentives, the price comes down to the original price as offered through the company. Without medicaid expansion in Alabama, and other plans through employers deemed not meeting requirements, what are residents to do here. What this did was place an monopoly on the healthcare market, and left us with no alternatives. This all comes to politics and I for one am sick of suffering because of my country for which I served. We are forcing changes to the people, while it may be good in the long run, you're deciding for us. My decision would be to be without coverage because the penalty looks more promising than what is offered to residents of Alabama.

    October 30, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  11. hitman

    More coverup and lies from this administration.

    October 30, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  12. Sniffit

    "news about the President's signature health care reforms "seems to get worse by the day,""

    Actually, it keeps getting better. They've fixed several major problems, added functionality to allow people to browse without having to make an account first and studies keep showing that premiums will be lower than predicted in most cases. Confusing reality with the breathless, pearl-clutching nontroversy wh-ring the MSM and GOP/Teatrolls spew on a daily basis is a silly mistake.

    ""Americans are scared" and "may be losing their faith in the government.""

    Nobody's fooled. GOPers/Teatrolls contributed hugely to the problems with implementation of the ACA and are now on the verge of partisan priapism over it. Their faux dismay and outrage is currently the most transparent thing in DC. We know they're gloating behind closed doors...they might as well stop being cowards and drama queens and do it openly.

    October 30, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  13. NL

    Does it make Obama feel better to blame someone and push them in front of the Committee? Really? The website having multiple glitches is the least of our worries. The President saying he didnt know there were issues causes great concern for what he is involving himself in and not involving himself in. This has his name, his mark "OBAMAcare" so don't we as the American population want to see that he is fully involved and aware? How can he present something to millions of Americans as something we should all look to with a positive outlook when day one showed so many errors and now, weeks later, the errors continue? I would have hoped that he would give his own creation the time and attention, checking and double checking that it would work.....so that he can stand by his product (so to speak). I see it cowardly that he doesnt want to take shared responsibility if anything else and that he is so overly focused on blaming one person when it is a a team that failed with him being the coach. Just my opinion....

    October 30, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  14. greg

    Doesn't matter....The Dems don't have to answer to anyone. They can do no wrong, yet they are doing all the wrong.
    Benghazi, Obamacare, Fast and Furius, IRS scan, NSA scams and Obama passes the buck (just like debt ceiling).

    October 30, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  15. Pat

    With the US already having the highest health insurance and healthcare costs in the world, the measure of success or failure for the ACA and Obamacare should be whether or not the total dollar amount of healthcare spending comes down and whether quality of life goes up for everyone.

    But predictably with more people shelling out more money for coverage, then more people are going to be going to the doctors rightly expecting more and more treatments for the money they are putting in which will increase healthcare spending further increasing health insurance industry profits.

    Yes, of course some poor people will be helped with the expansion of medicaid and subsidies for the very poor and that is a good thing. But with the funding for those subsidies coming from excise taxes on those with full cost plans that will further drive up insurance rates forcing more and more people into plans that don't really provide basic medical care because they have high deductibles and poor networks.

    Under Obamacare poor will have better health care, the rich always did and now the middle class is going to get further squeezed in the middle with less medical care and higher and higher mandated costs.

    October 30, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  16. Rudy NYC

    Average Citizen

    When will we get the apology about the frustrating experience of obamacare itself?
    -----------------
    You'll get it right after Cruz apologizes to the People for filibustering budget conference between the House and Senate. hurting the economy with his government shutdown, and scaring the living daylights out of everyone outside of his bubble reality by promising to default on our debts just to prove that his critics were lying.

    October 30, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  17. are122

    Obama hangs on to those willing to take the blame. Not a sign of a leader but amusing. Thank goodness my Stated decided not to expand Medicaid.

    October 30, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  18. Lewis

    And the site crashed again while she was talking. What a disaster!

    October 30, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  19. rnotme

    You people on here act like your opinions matter

    October 30, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  20. Ace

    The concern for the uninsured by the GOP is quite touching. Maybe they can rush in with their plan and save the day.

    October 30, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  21. Sniffit

    "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."

    People are not being left uninsured. They are receiving letters that state they are being rolled into a health care plan that meets the basic requirements of the ACA because their former plan did not. The GOP/Teatrolls are quite blatantly counting THAT as people being kicked off their plans and using it to imply that they are "losing their insurance" and becoming uninsured. It's not true at all. It's yet another gloss-over...a deliberate telling of only part of the story in order to give a misleading impression. Those people are, in fact, ending up better insured than they previously were.

    October 30, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  22. Joe Biden

    If anybody in the private sector performed their job this poorly, they would be fired.

    October 30, 2013 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  23. Paul

    No Ms. Sebelius. It's not just the website. It's the policy. 15 MILLION Americans are LOSING their health insurance and forced to buy MORE EXPENSIVE insurance through a broken website and give their most personal information to people who can't protect it. That tends to upset people. My monthly premium went up by hundreds of dollars I don't have and my deductible doubled. Are people upset? Yes! Should you and the Administration be fired? Yes!

    October 30, 2013 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  24. Ponderer

    ...at least we are sure that the pubs and the teaparty wouldn't sabotage the web site....uh, well, uh maybe not?
    d'ya think?

    October 30, 2013 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  25. bigdicmcgee

    it astounds me that this thing is called the affordable care act; with monthly cost going up and the deductible set at such high levels. No doubt the website will be fixed, my biggest issue is that this program expands entitlements. Right now the US government is borrowing money... the takers are about to outnumber the providers... this is not about Dems or Repubs its about MATH... we can not keep spending money we dont have

    October 30, 2013 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
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