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. tom l

    Can she apologize to me for losing my healthcare plan through work that I had that has now been completely changed into an HSA from the PPO that I had? Oh, and I work for a very large company so for people to say that the people who get their own insurance will be affected is a complete lie.

    October 30, 2013 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  2. Rudy NYC


    Obamacare will never be solvent unless the penalties are the same as the premiums. That of course, would alienate most of the citizens.
    The penalties get stiffer over the first few years. The penalty will increase each year until it equals or exceeds premiums. Seeing how most citizens already have health care coverage, your statement is simply an applause line not based in fact.

    October 30, 2013 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  3. CPowell

    Sebelius says. "In that time, nearly 700,000 applications have been submitted to the federal and state marketplaces from across the nation. This tremendous interest - with over 20 million unique visits to date to HealthCare.gov - confirms that the American people are looking for quality, affordable health coverage."

    WRONG! We are going to the site because we are being FORCED to go to the site. It took me three weeks to get through and done, to find I must take my employer's coverage - even though it is 20% higher than the exchanges...

    October 30, 2013 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  4. dave

    But, will Obama EVER apologize for not keeping a solid watch over the 3.5 years of development (time) of his KEY project, and then pushing it to be released when so many experts and people working on the project said it was not ready to be released. Holding off 12 months and doing it right the first time is a LOT better than doing it wrong to meet a deadline, and then trying to find the time to do it over.

    October 30, 2013 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  5. Chuck, Anaheim Ca.

    24 BILLION dollars. The cost to our country because the republicants don't have a plan or desire to have a plan to replace the ACA. That will have to be investigated when the house is returned to Democrats in 2014. There must be a way for the average American citizen to sue the republicant party for that 24 BILLION in lost revenue.

    October 30, 2013 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  6. Greg R

    Y'all voted for this guy,,,,you're getting what you voted for, so why you complaining?

    October 30, 2013 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  7. Sniffit

    "This has his name, his mark "OBAMAcare" "

    Newsflash: That's not what the law is called. It was a made-up name generated by the GOP/Teatrolls as an attempt at an epithet..an insult...which is why the MSM took it and ran with it and continues to repeat it to this day, despite proof that it has grossly confused the public into believing that the Affordable Care Act and "Obamacare" are actually two different things (they're not).

    October 30, 2013 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  8. tom l


    Even Crystal Ball, Crystal Ball of MSNBC fame(ish) is worried. This law is affecting way too many people. But hey, at least as a 44 year old man I now can have a baby and it will be covered!!

    October 30, 2013 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  9. LeRoy Johnson

    Are all critical government positions filled by old,politically connected HACKS ???

    October 30, 2013 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  10. tom l

    @Rudy and Data,

    How's that encryption thingy working out? At least they fixed the hole that I was told by you guys would never happen. And you trust the government. Wow. You seem far too intelligent to think they can actually handle this.

    October 30, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  11. Pfh

    I'm here watching and listening to the hearing w Ms. Sibelius. Now I'm listening to Rep Engel lash out a the Rep party, for the shut down of the Government – Well if President Obama had not kept saying he would not make a compromise on any of the GOP issues. Now lets keep a running total of the cost of the Heathcare Program or OBAMACARE website from the beginning stages until the end- then look at a comparison of the Government shutdown and the cost of OBAMACARE repairs. Grandfathered in insurance policy is NOT TRUE, I know for a fact

    October 30, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  12. Responsility???what

    "The buck stops...ah...ah...I've appointed a committee to look into...ah... rest assured though...ah...it doesn't stop here...ah...I'm just as upset about what happened to that alleged buck too....ah..." Obama

    October 30, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  13. Richard

    Could you please stop calling this Obamacare? It is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. I know attention spans are short and it is a complicated name, but this is an act passed by both houses and ratified by national elections. Should the name be to long i suggest you call it the Affordable Care Act, since that is its primary goal.

    October 30, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  14. twilson962

    Seriously, who didn't see this coming? There's no surprise that the site is having issues.

    October 30, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  15. tom l

    @Chuck from Anaheim,
    First of all, the Ducks stink! Secondly, can you tell me what you mean by that 24 billion? I don't get it. You're saying that the shutdown cost us 24 billion but what do you mean by that? In what way did it cost us? Are you talking about taxes? Are you talking about salaries? I'm not sure why you would be so up in arms about something that equates to .002% of our economy while supporting a law that was supposed to cost 900 billion and is now over 2 trillion. Stop with your silly, non-understanding talking points.

    October 30, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  16. Rudy NYC

    Tampa Tim wrote:

    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.
    In other words, the folks living in states that are not participating in the Medicare expansion are going to see the price for their medical insurance go up dramatically. Care providers will be forced to raise their prices for thehir services, because will need sufficient funds from your payments to cover the rest of the people in your state who are not covered, which raises the cost to your health coverage provider and eventually you, in the form of higher premiums. In other words, the same old crap.

    October 30, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  17. Sniffit

    "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. "

    If we used that measure, then you'd already have to admit it's been a success, because health care spending has decreased over the past few years.

    October 30, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  18. tom l

    "Newsflash: That's not what the law is called. It was a made-up name generated by the GOP/Teatrolls as an attempt at an epithet..an insult...which is why the MSM took it and ran with it and continues to repeat it to this day, despite proof that it has grossly confused the public into believing that the Affordable Care Act and "Obamacare" are actually two different things (they're not)."

    NEWSFLASH: President Obama refers to it as Obamacare.

    October 30, 2013 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  19. marji

    Where is Obama in all of this? It happened on HIS watch!!!!!

    October 30, 2013 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  20. Name carl

    It will get fixed get over it already Rrpublicans. If the GOP Would have as much interest in helping america as they do blaming all the time and trying to hurt america is all they do. Throw the GOP out in 2014 GOP the shutdown party.

    October 30, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  21. Lee Tutt

    I have never seen the United States of America in a state of utter out of control, it's no longer about the people but about politics and which party more suitable to handle the problem faces this nation. Right now at this moment both sides of the aisle need to work together and STOP playing games.

    October 30, 2013 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  22. Sammy

    It is interesting to hear the Texas law makers saying they are so concerned that there people cannot get insurance. Yet Gov. Perry and the Republicans would not extend Medicaid or be part of the ACA. Why are they now so concerned about there people. If Texas law makers are so concerned, I suggest they be part of the plan and allow the 30% not insured in TX to get insurance. I guess the Republican politics really shows in this hearing.

    October 30, 2013 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  23. Tampa Tim

    The $24 billion that the bagger hissy fit cost us goes directly to the national debt.

    October 30, 2013 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  24. Pfh

    Hey I would like to ask all of current healthcare policy holders to send a copy of the letter they received from their providers to Ms. Sibelius, President Obama, and your senator and congressman.
    Maybe then there will be a better understanding of the increase in pricing

    October 30, 2013 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  25. Name jk. Sfl. GOP CRUZ lee&rubio 24billion dallar LOSS of your tax money conservatives,the garbage of America.

    Like the GOP really cares about YOUR healthcare, give me a break!!!!!

    October 30, 2013 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
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