Questions for Secretary Sebelius

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee this morning. Her testimony comes the week after Healthcare.gov contractors testified before the same committee and a day after the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services testified before a different House committee.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. Where to watch the hearing, which began at 9 a.m. EST:

Live coverage via C-SPAN.

2. Read Sebelius’ prepared testimony. Politico calls it more of the same:

Sebelius’s eight pages of prepared testimony for the House Energy and Commerce Committee matches nearly word-for-word testimony delivered by CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner to Ways and Means on Tuesday.

In both written statements, the officials acknowledge that the website hasn’t met expectations but say the administration is taking major steps to improve it.

Neither testimony includes an apology for the bungled launch—but Tavenner verbally apologized at the hearing Tuesday morning.

Clay Johnson (@cjoh), who advocates for open source information in the federal government, annotated the testimony on Rap Genius, with questions and comments.

3. Get familiar with the background. Sebelius gave an interview to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta last week in which she had this memorable exchange:

Gupta: The president did say that he was angry about this. I mean do you know when he first knew that there was a problem?

Sebelius: Well, I think it became clear fairly early on. The first couple of days, that —

Gupta: So not before that, though? Not before October 1st?

Sebelius: No, sir.

Gupta: There was no concern at that point here in the White House or at HHS?

Sebelius: I think that we talked about having — testing, going forward. And if we had an ideal situation and could have built the product in, you know, a five-year period of time, we probably would have taken five years. But we didn’t have five years. And certainly Americans who rely on health coverage didn’t have five years for us to wait. We wanted to make sure we made good on this final implementation of the law.

And, again, people can sign up. The call center is open for business. We’ve had 1,100,000 calls. We’ve had 19 million people visit the Web site, 500,000 accounts created. And people are shopping every day. So people are signing up and there’s help in neighborhoods around the country, that people can have a one-on-one visit with a trained navigator and figure out how to sign up. So people are able to sign up.

I wondered at the time if Sebelius’ answer left a little wiggle room. I expect Republicans on the committee will pursue this.

4. Digest media reports. You can definitely expect that Sebelius will be asked about a CNN report yesterday that Healthcare.gov’s lead contractor warned the administrator well before the Oct. 1 launch of major problems. Read the documents.

CNBC suggests these six questions for her:

—What did you know, when did you know it, and who told you?

—Did you ever consider not launching Oct. 1?

—Why has no one been fired?

—What does all this cost?

—What contingency plans do you have?

—What are the enrollment numbers?

TPM offers what it calls seven legitimate questions for her.

And the Washington Post says that “the embattled secretary of health and human services will submit to a quintessential station of the Washington deathwatch.” Gotta love Washington.

Charles Ornstein is a senior reporter at ProPublica and past president of AHCJ. An earlier version of this post originally appeared on his tumblr, Healthy buzz.

5 replies »

  1. I know there was obfuscation by GOP governors, why would it take even close to 5 years to get a marketplace website online? This combined with the “you can keep your plan” debacle is killing any enthusiasm and vindicating republicans.

    As someone who is involved, yet on the fringe of health care and medical reforms, it certainly curbed my enthusiasm for a government led system.

  2. “Madam Secretary, could you address my concern over the fact that your HealthCare.gov hub contractor QSSI is owned by United Health Group? Could you further address the fact that their “Software Quality Assurance” page of their website appears to be a total bunch of crap?”

  3. “I think that we talked about having — testing, going forward.”

    What a complete and utter moron. A national embarrassment and an insult to the very concept of executive leadership.

  4. Okay. Logical question. The answer appears to hinge on how you define “working web site.” Here’s mine. Can you assure Americans that HIPAA regulations regarding patient data have not been violated? Will you take the site offline if you learn that they have?

  5. I have a question. What are you going to do if the end of November rolls around and you still don’t have a working web site?