While appearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius summed up the Healthcare.gov launch perfectly: "There is no excuse for what has been a miserable five weeks." Tuesday afternoon may have been a low point, when meeting notes between federal officials and contractors were released by Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the House oversight committee, and they showed just how bad the launch went. In her written statement, Politico reports, Sebelius hit the same talking points — they're working on the site, and "by the end of November, the experience on the site will be smooth for the vast majority of users." But as the notes show, the administration didn't realize just how bad the site was until October 8.
(Update: During the hearing Sebelius admitted that those technical problem will result in "quite low" numbers, according to The Hill. "I’m hoping that with the site improvement we’ll see more robust numbers," she said. If all goes well, the administration expects to see a flood of enrollees just before the December 15 deadline for January insurance, and another rush approaching the March 31 close of the enrollment period.)
Right off the bat, Sebelius was asked why the administration won't delay the individual mandate, something both Democrats and Republicans have been calling for. Her answer:
Sebelius: Delaying the Affordable Care Act won't delay people's diabetes, cancer, or Parkinson's— igorvolsky (@igorvolsky) November 6, 2013
In addition to calls to delay the individual mandate, and questions about the website, enrollment numbers and cancelled plans, Sebelius will likely have to continue answering questions about how well the website secures personal information. On Tuesday, Marilyn Tavenner of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services appeared before another Senate committee, and both Republicans and Democrats on that committee grilled her about security breaches, including a man who accidentally received a stranger's private information. "This is an example of critically defective security measures on Healthcare.gov that risk the private information of millions of Americans," Republican Sen. Tim Scott said.
While Sebelius meets with Congress, President Obama will be focusing on fixing the things he can fix. On Wednesday, he'll travel to Texas to try to push Republican governors like Rick Perry to expand Medicaid, just as Republicans in Ohio, Michigan and Arizona have. And long-term, Obama and his Healthcare.gov fixer Jeffrey Zients be working on making the government's IT procurement process less inefficient and more open to new technology. Not that any of that's going to fix anything immediately, but you can only say "we're working on it" so many times.