Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appeared before a congressional hearing Wednesday morning to answer for Healthcare.gov's shaky rollout. Many Republicans have been calling for Sebelius' resignation, but also for more information about how much the administration knew about the website's problems prior to its launch. As Republican Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, put it, "the secretary has the chance today to embrace transparency."
Update: Sebelius said that she didn't know the Healthcare.gov contractors wanted postpone the launch of the site. "I was not aware that they recommended a delay," Sebelius said. "But I don't think anyone ever estimated the degree to which we've had problems with the system, and certainly the contracting partners did not." That contradicts last week's testimony from CGI Federal and Quality Software Solutions Inc., when the firms said they warned the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a subset of Sebelius' Department of Health and Human Services, that the site wasn't ready.
Original post: Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman followed Upton, underscoring the ways the Affordable Care Act has helped Americans, and urging his colleagues to stop hyperventilating. As Sebelius delivered her prepared statement on how the administration has improved the website, the website was down:
Instead of dwelling on the website errors, Upton immediately started asking Sebelius about grandfathered plans, and the millions of Americans who are being notified that their policies are being cancelled. Sebelius explained that plans that didn't "unduly burden" consumers by raising rates had been grandfathered, and underscored the high turnover rate in the individual market, which serves approximately 12 million individuals.
"I have to smile at this line of questioning because everyone thought this hearing was about the website," Waxman replied.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn then grilled Sebelius, mentioning a couple in her district that lost a plan that they liked and found affordable. Sebelius pointed out that they have to be offered a new plan through their insurance, but Blackburn was not satisfied with that. "Some people like to drive a Ford not a Ferrari, and some people like to drink out of a red solo cup, not a wine glass with a stem," Blackburn said.
At @Sebelius hearing, Rep. Joe Barton resorts to Wizard of Oz cliche: Madame Secretary, you're not in Kansas anymore.— Colleen Nelson (@ColleenMNelson) October 30, 2013
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas once again brought up his concerns about a privacy clause hidden in the source code, and whether it was her responsibility to "put that in the code." "Mr. Barton, I did not put things in the source code," Sebelius said, then added that the script was boilerplate language that shouldn't be there. "I do absolutely commit to protecting the privacy of the American people." Barton also asked whether Sebelius if she would support a delay of the individual mandate, which she would not. The mic then turned over to Barton's nemesis, Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey.
"I know we're not in Kansas, but I do feel like we're in Oz," Pallone said. He went on to call the uproar over cancelled plans another red herring from the Republican party, when the focus should be on the fact that higher standards of insurance will increase competition in the private sector. "I think what my colleagues seem to forget is that this is not socialized medicine."
We'll be updating this post as the hearing continues.