Sebelius again in hot seat
WASHINGTON — After a family friend repeated his call for her resignation during a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius warned of “very low” numbers when enrollment figures for the health care website are released next week.
“Until the site is fully improved and we really kind of open up the doors wide to a lot of people, we're going to have, I think, a struggle getting significant numbers to sign up,” she testified at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee.
The news was hardly a shock, considering the vast problems with the HealthCare.gov website. But weak signup figures could make it harder to achieve the Obama administration's goal of enrolling 7 million people by March 31.
A low number of enrollees will provide fresh ammunition for congressional Republicans determined to have the Affordable Care Act repealed or its main provisions rolled back. On Tuesday, Medicare Administrator Marilyn Tavenner told another Senate committee that the department expected 800,000 to get coverage by the end of November on the state-run marketplaces and HealthCare.gov, the portal for the federal marketplace that serves 36 states.
Republican and Democratic senators complained about the rosy picture that Sebelius, her staff and private contractors painted in earlier testimony.
Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., called the updates “totally unsatisfactory” and warned Sebelius, “You've got to tell us what's working and what's not. ... The more you don't tell us, the greater the problems.”
Ranking minority member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was blunt: “No more caveats. No more excuses. No more spin. Just give us the truth.”
But it was Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas who provoked the biggest stir.
Roberts, who voted to confirm Sebelius in 2009, was an aide to her father-in-law, a former GOP congressman. They have been friends for years. But Roberts was the first member of Congress to call for her job because of the HealthCare.gov glitches.
In a five-minute statement during the hearing, Roberts accused Sebelius of failing to delay the flawed website's debut for political reasons.
“I believe you were given advice, counsel and warning from experts inside your agency and out, that the health care exchanges were not going to be ready,” he said. “I believe, to protect the (Obama) administration, you chose to ignore these warnings. ... You have said America should hold you accountable. ... I repeat my request for you to resign,” Roberts said.
Sebelius looked directly at him as he read his critique but remained impassive.
When the health secretary refused to comment on Obama's claims that the law would allow people to keep their insurance, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, angrily said: “It's impossible to do something in this administration that gets you fired.”
“It's unacceptable,” Sebelius said of the problems. But she said delaying implementation is not the answer.
“For millions of Americans, ‘delay' is not an option,” she said. “People's lives depend on this. Too many hardworking people have been waiting too long.”
Show commenting policy
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.
- Scathing report says college trustees fail in mission
- White House ricochets in nonprofits’ birth control coverage fray
- NASA expected to hire private rocket
- U.S. could have done better, says brother of slain journalist
- His murder-arson conviction overturned, man walks free 24 years later
- Ferguson residents fear return of rioting, looting
- Reid apologizes for jokes at Asian business event
- Kentucky firefighters recovering from ice stunt shocks
- Charities reconsider fundraising activities
- Hackers hit 25,000 government workers
- Retailers warned about software