Share This Page

White House sidesteps on 'keep-your-plan' message

| Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, 7:42 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Under growing pressure, the administration refused repeatedly to state a position Tuesday on legislation formalizing President Obama's oft-stated promise that people who like their existing coverage should be allowed to keep it under the new health care law.

Senate Democrats spoke dismissively of the proposals, signaling they have no intention of permitting a vote on the issue that marks the latest challenge confronting “Obamacare” supporters.

An earlier controversy appeared to be ebbing on a law that has generated more than its share of them. Even so, one strong supporter of the health care law, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R. I., good-naturedly told an administration official, “Good luck getting through this mess.”

Whitehouse spoke to Marilyn Tavenner, the head of the agency deeply involved in implementing the law. She had assured lawmakers that initial flaws with the government's website were systematically yielding to around-the-clock repair effort.

“Users can now successfully create an account and continue through the full application and enrollment process,” said Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “We are now able to process nearly 17,000 registrants per hour, or 5 per second, with almost no errors.”

She encouraged consumers to log onto the site and check it out, and said the administration had estimated that enrollments will total 800,000 by the end of November.

At the same time, she repeatedly refused to tell inquiring Republicans how many enrollments have taken place to date, saying that information would be made available at mid-month.

Across the Capitol, that reluctance drew a subpoena from Rep. Dave Camp, the Michigan Republican who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. He said the material was “critical government information” that the administration has refused to provide voluntarily, and demanded that it be turned over by Friday.

In response, a CMS spokeswoman, Tasha Bradley, said: “We have received the subpoena and are committed to working with the committee to accommodate their interest in this issue.” She did not explicitly pledge compliance.

In her testimony, Tavenner also sought to reassure lawmakers who expressed concerns about cybersecurity at www.healthcare.gov.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., cited the case of a Columbia, S.C. attorney, who used the website to look for coverage, only to learn later that some of his personal information had been made available to a different browser, a man in North Carolina.

“Has this happened before?” Scott asked. “Can you guarantee that Social Security numbers ... are secure? Will you shut down the website, as my friends from the left have already suggested, until security issues are fixed?”

Tavenner offered reassurances, and said officials from her agency were attempting to get in touch with the man whose information had been disclosed.

Scott said what the “consumer sees is not what's going wrong, it's that their confidence is going down.”

The controversy over the ability of consumers to keep their existing plans flared last week, when insurance companies mailed out millions of cancellation notices, often citing the new health care law as the reason.

House Republicans intend to vote as early as next week on legislation that permits insurers to reinstate the canceled plans, which fall short of the coverage requirement under the health care law. One Democrat, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, has proposed requiring insurers to do so.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.