Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is sworn in prior to a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Oct. 30.
WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
apologized to Americans Wednesday for the troubled rollout of the
national health care law and its dysfunctional website.
deserve better," Sebelius said as she began her testimony to the House
Energy and Commerce Committee. "I apologize. I'm accountable to you for
fixing these problems."
As Republican calls for her
resignation grow louder, Sebelius is getting intense grilling from the
panel - which is hearing from the embattled health care secretary for
the first time since HealthCare.gov went live on Oct. 1.
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"Hold me accountable for the debacle. I'm responsible,"
Sebelius said after a heated exchange with Rep. Marsha Blackburn,
R-Tenn., about who was in charge of the website.
Asked for an accounting of federal dollars, Sebelius said the government so far has spent $118 million on the website and $56 million more on "IT support" for the site.
Sebelius' testimony comes the day after Marilyn
Tavenner, the director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid
Services and the Obama administration official closest to the website's
management, apologized for the botched rollout before a different House
In her opening remarks, Sebelius also sought
to place some of the blame on government contractors building the
website who "have not met expectations." She told the committee that
there was not adequate "end-to-end testing" of the website, saying there
was about two weeks of testing.
been shaky since its debut on Oct. 1, when open enrollment began under
the Affordable Care Act. The law, which passed with no Republican
support, was signed by President Obama with great fanfare in 2010 as a
key to overhauling the nation's complex health care system and providing
insurance to millions of people who are currently without such
Obama has stood by Sebelius, a former Kansas
governor, and has embarked on his own campaign to tout the law's
benefits and move away from the website debacle. The president will
speak Wednesday afternoon in Boston, to illustrate the success of
Massachusetts' health care law - the basis for the Affordable Care Act.
Zients, a former White House budget deputy, said the site will be fixed
by Nov. 30. Sebelius' prepared testimony said HHS has updated the
website's technology with new code and help from experts inside and
outside of government.
Sebelius said Wednesday that she feels good
about the Nov. 30 date, noting that the department's assessment is that
it will take that long for HealthCare.gov to be "an optimally
"I have confidence ... but I know it isn't fair to the American people to take my word for it," she said. "I have to fix this."
until HealthCare.gov gets a clean bill of health, congressional
Republicans are sure to keep using the website as a focal point in their
arguments that the law is an unwieldy and costly example of government
intrusion. The GOP-led House has tried 40 times to repeal the law, to no
At times throughout the hearing, Republicans also
brought up the cancellation notices that some individuals have received
about their insurance. Blackburn and others sought to tie those
cancellations to Obama's promise during the legislative fight over
health care that Americans with insurance would be able to keep such
coverage under the law.
Asked if he is keeping his promise,
Sebelius said, "yes, he is." She noted that insurance companies often
cancel policies and that those will be replaced with new and better
policies available under the law.
The hearing also delved into the
security of the website. Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and G.K.
Butterfield, D-N.C., read from an internal government memo that Rogers
said showed the site had not received enough testing for security issues
and that it "exposed a level of uncertainty that can be deemed as a
The memo recommended addressing those risks, conducting
daily tests, monitoring of the site for security issues and a full
security test within two to three months. Sebelius said all of those
recommendations are being followed and that the site is secure.
said they did not conduct more extensive testing because they did not
have time. The contractors said they were ready to go ahead, she said.
the administration says more than 700,000 people have created accounts
to buy insurance on state and federal health exchanges since Oct. 1,
Tavenner and other officials have not disclosed how many people have
actually enrolled through the online network.
acknowledged in her testimony that the number of enrollees through the
online exchange would probably "be a very small number of people" for
the first month of its existence, especially given the website's
problems. But she said that is to be expected, and noted that
Massachusetts experienced similar enrollment issues when its law took
effect in 2006.