4 unanswered questions from the ObamaCare hearing
Kathleen Sebelius got grilled by Congress. Her answers left a lot to be desired.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius began her testimony today in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee with an apology.
"I am as frustrated and angry as anyone with the flawed launch of Healthcare.gov," she said. "So let me say directly to these Americans: You deserve better. I apologize."
The White House has been hammered by conservatives, liberals, and the media for the site's technical problems, as well as news that millions of Americans who buy their own insurance will be forced to switch to more comprehensive plans, despite President Obama's promises to the contrary.
The tone of the hearing — which lasted for nearly four grueling hours — ranged from disappointment to anger to incredulity.
"Well, Madam Secretary, while you're from Kansas, we're not in Kansas anymore," said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas). "Some might say that we are actually in the Wizard of Oz land given the parallel universes we appear to be habitating."
So, yes, there was plenty of political grandstanding. But that doesn't gloss over the fact that a lot of questions about ObamaCare remain unanswered. Here are four questions that Americans should still be asking.
How many people have actually signed up for ObamaCare?
Sebelius declined to disclose how many people have gone through ObamaCare's enrollment process and signed up for health insurance, claiming that the "system isn't functioning so we aren't getting that reliable data."
Why is that number important? Because ObamaCare needs lots of healthy people to sign up — or premiums could skyrocket in the coming years as health insurance companies are stuck covering more of the old and the sick.
Considering the site's problems, it's entirely possible that Sebelius doesn't have an accurate enrollment number. But she could also be delaying some bad news. Yesterday, Marilyn B. Tavenner, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), kept expectations low by telling the House Ways and Means Committee that she expects the initial enrollment numbers to be "small."
According to Sebelius, we won't know how small until mid-November.
Why did Healthcare.gov launch after so little testing?
Contractors claim that ObamaCare's website launched with only two weeks of "end-to-end" testing, a claim that Sebelius didn't dispute. At the hearing, she claimed that health officials didn't have pricing information and other data from insurers early enough to start testing before then. That doesn't explain, however, why the HHS would agree to launch a site it knew hadn't been thoroughly tested.
Why wasn't Obama more informed?
Last week, Sebelius claimed to CNN's Sanjay Gupta that Obama didn't know about Healthcare.gov's glitches until "the first couple of days" after the Oct. 1 launch. Today, she stuck with her story, claiming that the HHS, and not Obama, was primarily responsible for the botched rollout.
She also put some blame on the federal contractors hired to build the site. Those contractors, in a previous hearing, singled out the CMS — which handled ObamaCare's rollout within HHS — as the guilty party and claimed they warned the government at the beginning of September that the site was having serious problems.
Obviously, Sebelius wasn't going to throw her boss under the bus. But the confusing web of blame makes it seem as if the White House wasn't involved at all in the execution of the president's signature domestic achievement. Sebelius claims she sent Obama "regular reports" on her progress.
If that is the case, why was Obama so uninformed about the state of the website? What, exactly, did Sebelius tell him? It's doubtful that Republicans will be satisfied with today's answers.
When will the site be fixed?
Sebelius claimed that Healthcare.gov's problems site will be fixed "as soon as possible." Other White House officials have said that everything should be working by the end of November. That would give people about two weeks to sign up before the Dec. 15 deadline, which guarantees coverage starting on Jan. 1, 2014.
Those are some pretty vague time estimates, though, especially considering Americans face fines and gaps in coverage if they don't sign up for health insurance soon enough.