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

    You can keep your plan....period. lol

    October 30, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  2. Sniffit

    "Because 80% of the people in this country we satisfied with their insurance plans prior to Obamacare"

    You mean 80% of those who actually had insurance, not 80% of the people in this country. We barely had 80% of the people in this country insured in the first place.

    October 30, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  3. McBob79

    A disaster by a disastrous president and administration. Admit the mistake, repeal and replace with something that really works and addresses the real issue (health care costs).

    October 30, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  4. Lenny from MN

    This is to the trio who referenced Wizard of Oz. Really?! You are supposed to be representing the people in our best interests and you are making repeated fictional refences to prove distaste to common troubleshooting to launching a new site? I didn't realize there is such an elementary level of disagreement and executed in the same elementary fashion. How much are your salaries again? Because I didn't realize until today that by referencing a fellow reprentative to a vintage family film you could multifunction as being cute and hold a credible argument.
    Only in #merica

    Thank you!!!

    October 30, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  5. dajowi

    The only remark that one needs to reference in this whole health care debacle is: “But we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of controversy.”

    October 30, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  6. Lynda/Minnesota

    "You mean 80% of those who actually had insurance, not 80% of the people in this country. We barely had 80% of the people in this country insured in the first place."

    Yeah. The 80% of those who actually had insurance. Seems these are the ones most upset about others' being insured as well.

    Try as I might, I can't understand why they are so upset now that those who can least afford a doctor visit will be given the opportunity to finally do so within the confines of their limited income.


    October 30, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  7. Jason

    How much faith do you have....that your personal information is secure.....on this Obama care website....lol

    October 30, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  8. just saying

    Maybe It's Just Me
    Why is it fair to force people to buy coverage they will never use? If I'm infertile, why should I be forced to buy insurance that includes maternity services?

    consider it more a tax and/or wealth redistribution to subsidize others who do use it. and as their costs go up, expect your costs to rise as well.

    October 30, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  9. The REAL Truth...

    My daddy used to say that you can't fix S_T_U_P_I_D and are even worse to try. No amount of education will enlighten and change the minds of folks who: –
    a) get their info from a single source, and believe the leanings based on their predisposition of "militant hatred" of all things Government (until the need those Federal dollars.
    b) have low information
    c) are not smart enough to realize that the people they continue to support and re-elect do NOT have their own interests at heart
    d) live in states like Bobby Jindal's.

    October 30, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  10. mcriled

    another big whopper by obama and his taking zero responsibilty again, letting liar another from his administartion take the fall

    October 30, 2013 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  11. mcriled

    to "the real truth", whats worse is ignoring the truth when its slaps you in the face, just to save face.

    October 30, 2013 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  12. buongiorno

    seriously people suck it up its here deal with it until things improve try to make the best of things like the rest of us who share the same world you do

    October 30, 2013 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  13. The REAL Truth...

    @mcriled – to "the real truth", whats worse is ignoring the truth when its slaps you in the face, just to save face.
    be REAL!! The fake outrage expressed by rw politicians and their faithful is ludicrous.... given that they all do it.. The indignation expressed toward the Obama administration for "lying to the American people" over ACA and holding the POTUS to a different set of standards than prior administrations is juvenile at best. Smacking your palm off your forehead while whining about FILL_IN_THE_BLANKS from Obama (example: the NSA spying on Germany) is self-righteous given that EVERY administration in the history of the US has done EXACTLY the same... YOU SIMPLY WEREN'T AWARE OF IT!! Like I stated.. "you can't fix S_T_U_P_I_D"...

    October 30, 2013 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  14. Dave W

    Won't be long before a lynch mob is formed...They are setting insane precedents. The only compromises the R-Party are making are for hair creams.

    October 30, 2013 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  15. mcriled

    absolutely right, "you can't fix stupid" , this administration and its kool aid drinking followers are the perfect example, our only hope ist that the rest of his followers grow up and see the error they made as first time voters. I know a bunch of college students on a project I am working on that have stated there disappointment, not enough to change sides but enough not to vote for anyone coming from the obama administration, including hillary.

    October 30, 2013 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  16. mcriled

    "once a liar always a liar" we cannot count on one hand the bold face lies this president has told.

    October 30, 2013 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  17. bluehawk3

    To CNN: You are showing your bias by reporting this announcement. When stating "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." The word "tremendous" is only a value judgment from you, not factual. You can't "confirm" anything from this. Get real.

    October 30, 2013 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  18. montani42

    No where in the constitution does it give the federal government the right to have anything to do with health insurance! Health insurance is NOT a. right. Every person, unless they are TRULY disabled, should be responsible for their own health care. Life itself is not fair. I was born into a poor family in Appalachia. We never had health insurance while growing up and we didn't whine around wanting someone else to pay our way in life. Only free loaders do that. My brothers and I worked hard and studied hard to become successful in life and pay our own way. Thenhealth care I have had for many years was just cancelled due to the Obamacare law. If an insurance company raises the monthly cost of a policy $5 or more, the policy must be cancelled and the replacement must include all the extra and unnecessary things required by Obamacare. At our age,my wife and I must pay for maternity care and birth control. Obama should be impeached for lying to the citizens of America.

    October 30, 2013 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
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