Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was in the hot seat again on Wednesday, this time to testify before Congress’ Senate Finance Committee.
Sebelius has been under fire since the problem-filled launch of the Affordable Care Act website, and testified last week before the Republican-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Back on Capitol Hill, Sebelius faced scrutiny from Republicans who are upset over the actual health care law itself, and from Democrats who are concerned about the troubled rollout of Healthcare.gov. The hearing also addressed rising concerns over health care policy cancellations.
In his opening statements, Republican senator Orrin Hatch (UT) accused Sebelius of not being “honest” about the rollout, which he claims she had to have had “several indications” would be problematic.
“Put simply, there is a long track record of broken promises and untruthful answers to both this committee and the American people with respect to how this law would work and the impact it would have,” Hatch said.
“I hope that it will stop today. No more caveats. No more excuses. No more spin. Just give us the truth,” the senator urged.
Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) — who suggested that the implementation could be a “train wreck” months before the rollout — took a similar approach. Unlike many of his GOP counterparts who have asked for Sebelius’ resignation, however, he affirmed that Sebelius “needs to stay at Health and Human Services and help get the marketplaces working.”
Sebelius assured Hatch and Baucus that “expert” technicians are working around the clock to ensure the Healthcare.gov website functions properly for “most Americans” by the end of November.
Other significant moments included Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) demanding that Sebelius hold the contractors behind the website “legally responsible” and that she “burn their fingers,” and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) pushing Sebelius to admit that website “navigators” — who assist Americans shopping the exchanges and are not required to undergo background checks — could potentially be “convicted felons” with the capability to “acquire sensitive, personal information from an individual unbeknownst to them.” Cornyn also suggested that ACORN — which hasn’t existed for three years — could be involved.
Several senators also asked why, if even Sebelius admits that accessing the exchanges have proved a “miserably frustrating experience,” the federal government does not delay the implementation of the new health care law until the site is guaranteed to function properly.
Sebelius countered that delaying implementation would not “delay people’s cancer or diabetes or Parkinson’s.”
“For millions of Americans, delaying is not an option,” she added.
Photo: US Mission Geneva via Flickr