NEW YORK (MainStreet) Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee October 30 to answer questions about the Obamacare rollout that is beset with problems and about promises made that now appear to be invalid.
The implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is known informally as Obamacare, has seen a litany of epic failures and the violation of guarantees made by Democrats and President Barack Obama. These failures include technological problems which have prevented people from enrolling in insurance plans via the website designed for this purpose. There are also concerns about security breaches of the website. There were promises, emphatically made by Obama, that Americans can continue to keep their current insurance if they choose to do so - that have been revealed to be untrue. There were guarantees by Obama and other Democrats, stated prior to the enactment of the ACA, that there would be no increases in taxes to fund it - but this too turned out to be untrue.
All of which causes the American public to question the credibility of the Obama administration. These credibility issues have been magnified by contradictory statements by the contractors who were involved in developing the website and the HHS; by Sebelius's inability to answer questions about the ACA posed by comedian Jon Stewart when she appeared on his political satire television show; and by various inconsistent statements by administrations officials and spokespeople.
During her testimony Wednesday, Sebelius held herself accountable for the website failures - although, notably, without any consequences. But as the questioning began, it was plain that the committee was divided along partisan lines.
One Democrat, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), after skewering Republicans, tried to learn if the contractors would receive any penalty for the website failure. Sebelius said they would not be paid for substandard work.
Another Democrat, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) also blamed the civilian contractors for the website problems. She claimed they first said the website would be ready on time. But after the rollout they denied it was ready when testifying before congress.
So Democrats spent their time trying to defend the ACA and discredit Republicans.
They denied people were losing their insurance coverage. Democrats claimed the failures of the website were unimportant. They demonized insurance companies and Republicans as the real reason for any problems with the ACA.
The Republicans, for their part, did little to solve the problem. They seemed incapable of crafting a unified consistent theme or looking for a solution. Only a few were able to address the issues of cancelled coverage - despite promises to the contrary, website problems, security concerns - none addressed the tax issue.
For example, Oregon Rep. Walden referred to the Washington Post's awarding of "four Pinocchios" to President Obama's promise that people would be able to keep their current insurance. The Post noted that Obama's statements "were sweeping and unequivocal and made both before and after the bill became law." But now Obama "cites technicalities to avoid admitting that he went too far in his repeated pledge, which, after all, is one of the most famous statements of his presidency."
Republican member, Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) asked Sebelius if she had data on the number of enrollees or the number of people who tried to enroll and were unable to do so. He said his home state of Nebraska did not have such data. Nebraska had opted out of a state exchange.
"Do you have data, in general, on how many people in the United States have tried to enroll in a plan through this website?" he asked Sebelius.
"No, sir, we do not have reliable data about enrollment, which is why we have not given it to date," Sebelius replied.
Terry then said, "The contractors I asked about specifically the information of how many people have enrolled and tried to enroll and they said they do have those numbers but cannot tell us that because of a contract with HHS saying they are gagged on that information... will you go on the record authorizing them to give us that data and let us determine if they are reliable."
"No, sir, I want to give you reliable confirmed data," Sebelius responded, refusing to provide it.
"But that data exists," insisted Terry.
"The system is not functioning," Sebelius said. Some feel it would only damage the Obama administration more if it were revealed, hence Sebelius's response.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) asked Sebelius about security questions. He wanted to know about the ACA's computer software codes.
"Has each piece of that code that has been introduced in the system been security tested?" he asked.
"That is my understanding," replied Sebelius.
"Has any end-to-end security test been conducted since healthcare.gov went live on October 1?" Rogers asked.
"I will find out," Sebelius said.
Rogers then read a memo stating that the security contractor has not been able to test the security. He asserted that the system was allowed to go forward without testing the security of a system that contained personal financial information.
"This is an unacceptable level of security," said Rogers. He continued to grill Sebelius but then the committee vice chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) interceded on Sebelius's behalf preventing Rogers from asking more questions.
The next member to question Sebelius, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) stated that he felt Republicans were disingenuous to exhibit concerns about the ACA, which he says they want to fail and have never wanted to enact in the first place.
"I think their real fear is that the plan will succeed and the American people will learn of the real benefits of this plan," said Doyle.
The political partisanship regarding inquiries into what went wrong with the ACA is so bad that even Van Jones, Obama's former environmental adviser and a staunch liberal Democrat, said to CNN's Wolf Blitzer on an October 30 edition of his show that Democrats have to stop pretending there is nothing wrong with the ACA and Republicans have to stop saying there is more wrong with it than there really is.
Regardless of whether one favors or opposes the ACA one thing this hearing has made absolutely clear is that the intrinsic politics involved with any government run program will at best make it inefficient and at worst make it corrupt.
--Written by Michael P. Tremoglie for MainStreet