Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius headed to Capitol Hill Wednesday to testify before Congress about the failed rollout of the President’s signature healthcare overhaul. Sebelius spent most of the day being pummeled by lawmakers (some of whom have called for her prompt resignation) and playing dumb.
Wednesday morning, as Sebelius began her testimony, the Obamacare website crashed.
The HHS Secretary persevered with a prepared statement—identical to the one delivered by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner on Tuesday—and stated the obvious.
Via Roll Call:
The Health and Human Services Secretary’s prepared testimony for a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing is a carbon copy of the prepared testimony delivered by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, who testified Tuesday before the Ways and Means Committee.
Save the perfunctory greetings for the committee chairmen and ranking members, the testimonies are six-and-a-half pages of word-for-word duplication. While the focus of both of the hearings is similar, it’s unusual for administration officials to submit identical written testimonies — particularly when the political stakes are so high. Both appointees are trying to assuage concerns and criticism that the administration did not take implementation issues with the Obamacare website seriously enough.
During questioning from Congress, Sebelius spent a great deal of time answering questions about President Barack Obama’s now infamous promise that Americans could keep their healthcare plans if they chose to.
“Is he keeping his promise?” Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked.
“Yes he is,” Sebelius answered.
Sebelius went on to blame many of the cancellations on insurance companies’ habit of renewing some individual policies on a yearly basis, adding, “They absolutely will have new plans. They will have ongoing coverage.”
Sebelius said the press had also largely neglected to mention that cancelled policies will be replaced with new and better ones.
“In all deference to the press corps, I think it’s important to be accurate,” she said.
But Blackburn pondered whether the plans actually were any better.
“I will remind you, some people like to drive a Ford, not a Ferrari, and some people like to drink out of a red Solo cup and not a crystal stem,” Blackburn said. “You’re taking away their choice.”
Blackburn also questioned the HHS Secretary about who was responsible for the website failures. Sebelius named Michelle Snyder, chief operating officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“Michelle Snyder is the one responsible for this debacle?” Blackburn asks.
“Well, excuse me, Congresswoman. Michelle Snyder is not responsible for the debacle,” Sebelius backtracked. “Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.”
Representative Mike Rogers questioned Sebelius about widely reported security flaws on the Obamacare website.
Later, the question of who is responsible for the disaster resurfaced.
Asked whether Obama is ultimately to blame for the disaster, Sebelius became annoyed, saying, “Whatever, yes — he is the president, he is responsible for government programs.”
Sebelius claimed that it would be illegal for her to enroll in Obamacare.
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) told Sebelius that he and his family buy their health insurance on the private market, and like other people in his boat, got a notice saying his plan was being discontinued this year. He said he chose to reject his congressional insurance to be more like people in his district.
“Why aren’t you losing your insurance?” he demanded of Sebelius. “Why won’t you go into this exchange?”
Sebelius responded that she is not eligible, because people who get affordable coverage through their employer may not apply through the marketplace.
“I would urge you to be like the American people,” he said, before asking for a waiver from the health-care law for his Colorado district.