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. Thomas

    I can still remember "My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." –Vice President Dick ... —Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld,

    Nobody has yet died from the ACA website , it will be fixed and in time the transition will stabilize promote a better environment for prosperity and economic growth .

    October 30, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  2. Minnie Mouse

    The law is to confusing. My family should be able to change insurance companies into these exchanges but my spouses employers will not allow it because they are already offering insurance. This law should be set up for anyone who wants to enroll into it and not certain age groups, certain income groups, only for people who already don't have insurance and the ones who don't have enough coverage. We all deserve better options and to be able to save money if we can. Some unfairness going on.

    This is good for our country overall in the end and I hope it gets fixed soon. Everyone is complaining about the costs. The costs of the Affordable Care Act will outweigh the costs of the government shut down. Obamacare is creating jobs, reducing insurance costs, hospital costs, allowing for millions of people to get insurance and be covered that were denied because of pre-existing conditions. The government being shut down didn't solve anything.

    October 30, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  3. dave

    Sniffit – Maybe you missed Obama himself on a national State of the Union broadcast referring the PPACA as Obamacare. If Obama refers to it as Obamacare, what is the problem with others agreeing with him?

    October 30, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  4. Gurgyl

    Listen, what ever Faux or Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaou cries–ACA IS A LAW, NOW. Just shut up, and go. GOP is doomed.

    October 30, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  5. Data Driven

    The Elephant in this thread: we're all having our own arguments and completely ignoring the actual hearing.


    October 30, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  6. sonny chapman

    The Govt. Shutdown was actually GOOD for the Country.

    October 30, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  7. sonny chapman

    They hate us for our Freedom.

    October 30, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  8. rs

    Data Driven

    The Elephant in this thread: we're all having our own arguments and completely ignoring the actual hearing.

    Ahhhh. So true. For myself, I have given up on the idea that Republican Hearings are about facts and more often about other agendas... I mean these are the people who claimed the ACA had "Death Panels" waiting to kill Granny, and that the IRS would be administering your health care....

    October 30, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  9. rs

    sonny chapman

    They hate us for our Freedom.
    The freedom to die from the lack of medical care...?

    October 30, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  10. rs

    sonny chapman

    The Govt. Shutdown was actually GOOD for the Country.
    Just like getting mugged is good, too.

    October 30, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  11. Texas pete

    Well of course there are a lot of people coming to the site, we are being forced to comply with the affordable health care act and people are losing their health care! shessh, how dense do you think we are lady! Your intrusion into my personal live and health violates the Declaration of Independence! You have taken away my Liberty by forcing me, liberty means choice and I choose not to give the government any information!!!

    October 30, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  12. Gurgyl

    --they also want you to go to War and die. They don't want you to go to university, nor have Healthcare.

    October 30, 2013 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  13. If You Like Your Plan You Can Keep It

    The AP has just reported that they are in possession of an internal government memo as of September 27 of this year that said insufficient testing "exposed a level of uncertainty that can be deemed as high risk" for President Barack Obama's new health insurance website.

    October 30, 2013 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  14. Sniffit

    ""The employer mandate was ILLEGALLY delayed by Obama. What's your point?""

    Please read Heckler v. Chaney and learn what you're talking about.

    October 30, 2013 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  15. Rudy NYC

    Minnie Mouse

    The law is to confusing. My family should be able to change insurance companies into these exchanges but my spouses employers will not allow it because they are already offering insurance.. ... ... ...
    Lies. Lies. Lies. The volueme lies and made up stories coming out of the right wing are worst than a blizzard.

    It is a violation of labor laws, [not monopoly laws I cited earlier ] , for companies to force you purchase their health care packages. You can purchase health insurance from whereever and whomever you so choose, including your spouse. Period.

    October 30, 2013 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  16. MOG

    Will the GOP still call it "Obamacare" when it is proven to benefit the poor so-called underclass...which by the way is the true majority in the worlds richest nation...whose debt was here before this law? Or will we be happy when "GOPcare" lobbyist want to increase prices for big business profit down the road? If big business is not going to make any money on this, why are they scrambling to use this law to increase their clientele? Have you noticed the increase in the HMO commercials and advertising?

    October 30, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  17. Data Driven


    When I get home tonight, I'll be sure to look for Sebellius saying this:

    "They spent close to $200 million dollars on a program that doesn't work, is not secure and hasn't been tested. Another $600 million on trying to promote it to the public"


    October 30, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  18. James Hanrahan

    No matter how the story is told, a lie is still a lie! One can phrase a lie in many ways but it is still an untruth! We have been listening to lie after lie, excuse after excuse, from the Obama administration, he, "Didn't Know," "just Heard About It On The News" or "He Wasn't In The Loop." I think Americans are beginning to see through his, 'Incompetence and Egotism. He was and is, unqualified to hold the office of President, that has become apparent in the course of his tenure in that office!

    October 30, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  19. FLIndpendent

    @ 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.
    You are what's wrong with the Dem leaning independents that give up way too quickly and give in to the scare tactics of the Repubs. Sorry to hear you are losing your current coverage but that has always happened, especially if your employer provides coverage – they are constantly looking to get the best prices and therefore change the employees plans. You will get another policy and it will be better. Hang in there – don't give in to the Repub/Tea Party...that is why we are in this mess now because of them and their constant fighting. Don't forget this ACA was their answer to Hillary's healthcare plan.

    October 30, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  20. just saying

    what is with this wanting to leave at noon bs from sebelius??? she has time to go to boston for a gala event and run around the country to push obamacare but she doesn't have time to answer to congressional oversight committees?! she should be kept there as long as is necessary to get all, repearty all, of the questions answered. this flunky needs to be held accountable and answer all of the questions concerning her total incomptence in the roll out.

    October 30, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  21. cheryl

    listening too these GOP's asking and saying the same things over and over again. Are all of them reading a script to say the same thing. Haven't heard one positive or production solutions from any of them.

    October 30, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  22. s young

    Of course there is "tremendous interest" in the Obamacare website; this does not specifically mean that "the American people are looking for quality, affordable health coverage" but that they just don't want to be penalized by not doing what the government is making them do!!

    October 30, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  23. Larry in Houston

    LOL – hope the voters in texas remembers that texas congressman, when voting time rolls around, that made fun of Kathleen, seeing her riding a tricycle, when she was a kid.....Then he had the gall to ask some personal Questions, such as IF she was originally from Kansas / whether she was born there & etc.... Sebelius told him that she was born & raised in Cincinnati & met her husband there, and they moved to Kansas.....

    This begs the Question : Why in the world was this type of stuff brought up ?? Isn't this supposed to be a "hearing" on the ACA ??


    October 30, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  24. just asking

    i wonder how many more lies these obama droids are going to state for the record?

    obama: if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan. big lie.
    reality: if politicians like and approve of your healthcare plan, you can keep it. they took that freedom and decision from you with obamacare. you are are just too stupid to decide how to spend your own money.

    October 30, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  25. Tony

    Obamacare did not cancel your insurance plan; your insurance company did. Go shop for a better plan. Remember, you don't have to buy a plan through the Obamacare website. When you shop for a better plan, insurance companies that offer more expensive plans will go out of business.

    October 30, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
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