The Healthcare.gov grace period is over. The government shutdown has ended, and Republicans are turning their attention to the struggling federal exchange. According to The Wall Street Journal, the GOP-led House Energy and Commerce Committee announced on Thursday night that it's holding a hearing on the Obamacare exchange rollout on October 24. The committee invited Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who Republicans have been calling on to resign, to attend the hearing on October 11, according to Reuters, but on Wednesday she said she wouldn't be there.
The committee's majority members sent a letter to HHS on Thursday, demanding that they make other representatives available for the hearing. HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said the department would be "responsive."
Sebelius' reluctance to attend might have something to do with the title of the hearing — the House panel is calling it "Implementation Failures: Didn't Know or Didn't Disclose?" If the panel is at all impressed by the the tens of thousands of completed applications submitted to successful state-run exchanges (or the 10 percent drop in the number of uninsured Americans in Oregon) then you wouldn't know it from the title of the hearing.
"We'll be trying to get people from the administration to tell us whether they were pretending everything was OK or was there an internal cover-up or did they just not know?" said Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce panel's health subcommittee. He said he plans to hold his own hearing, according to Reuters.
Now that the GOP doesn't have to worry about shutdown talking points, the fight against Obamacare has turned to scrutinizing the federal exchange site. On Thursday, Ted Cruz shared his displeasure with Obamacare's survival with ABC News. "The U.S. Senate is not concerned about all of the people who are out of job, all the people with part-time work, all the people whose health insurance premiums are skyrocketing, all the people who are losing their health insurance," he said. "And that’s happening because of Obamacare." As The Washington Post points out, Obamacare will help more people than it hurts, but that message is only effective if people can sign up.
At least one contractor is already anticipating the backlash — BuzzFeed reported on Friday that Teal Media, run by President Obama's former digital campaign manager Jessica Teal, deleted a page referencing their work on Healthcare.gov. (The company re-instated the page after the BuzzFeed report.) Meanwhile insurers are continuing to report incomplete and inaccurate applications, and, as Yuval Levin at the National Review notes, the site's subsidy calculations also haven't been running well. "In a couple of ways, then, the severe user-interface problems at the front end of the federal exchange has actually had some advantages from [the Center for Medicare and Medicaid]’s point of view, because by keeping enrollment volume low it has kept some other huge problems from becoming instantly uncontrollable," Levin writes. But eventually those problems may hurt enrollment numbers, numbers the federal government has kept quite on.
"It's well past time for the administration to be straight and transparent with the American people," Republican Rep. Fred Upton, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce panel, said in a statement. Expect that to become the GOP's post-shutdown talking point of choice.