• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
5m 20s

Sebelius: ‘Hold me accountable for the debacle’ of HealthCare.gov

By Stephanie Condon / CBS News 9:49 PM November 1, 2013

Health and Human Services secretary apologizes for botched site, tells the American people, "You deserve better"

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday offered the Obama administration’s second formal apology to the American people for HealthCare.gov, the dysfunctional Obamacare website.

“You deserve better, I apologize,” Sebelius said to the public in her opening remarks to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “I’m accountable to you… I’m committed to earning your confidence back by fixing the site.”

The secretary acknowledged that since HealthCare.gov launched on Oct. 1, the experience of trying to sign up for a private insurance plan on the site has been “miserably frustrating” for many people. She assured the committee and the public that “we have a plan in place” to fix the site and reiterated the administration’s promise to have it working for the vast majority of visitors by the end of November.

Sebelius said that even though the site isn’t “fully functioning,” consumers are using it “every day” and they have “plenty of time” to sign up — the open enrollment period lasts through the end of March.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., asked Sebelius who is “responsible for this debacle,” to which Sebelius replied, “Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.”

Sebelius at the top of the hearing strayed from her prepared opening statement, which offered no apology for the botched website rollout and blamed the problems on the private contractors who built the site.

“To build the Marketplace, CMS [the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] used private sector contractors, just as it does to administer aspects of Medicare,” Sebelius’ prepared testimony said. “CMS has a track record of successfully overseeing the many contractors our programs depend on to function. Unfortunately, a subset of those contracts for HealthCare.gov have not met expectations.”

The secretary told the committee Wednesday that the government has spent $118 million to build the website itself and $56 million in information technology support for the site. Asked whether the government is paying for botched work, Sebelius said, “We have obligated funds for a contract, [but] we certainly have not expended all those funds.” Additionally, Sebelius said, “Paying for work that isn’t complete is not something that we will do.”

One day prior to Sebelius’ apology, Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), similarly apologized for HealthCare.gov’s problems in a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee. Meanwhile, President Obama was slated to defend his health care law in Boston on Wednesday afternoon.

While HealthCare.gov has had siginficant problems in the past month, it’s not the only element of the Affordable Care Act that’s come under fire recently. In fact, even though Wednesday’s hearing was intended to focus on the website, lawmakers on the committee first questioned Sebelius about the fact that millions of Americans are losing their insurance plans on the individiual market because they don’t meet the minimum standards set by the Affordable Care Act.

Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said it was unfair that those Americans are “now being forced to go on an inept website” to buy new insurance plans, “whether they like it or not.”

Blackburn made the case that some Americans may not want insurance plans that meet the new Obamacare standards, remarking, “Some people like to drive a Ford, not a Ferrari, and some like to drink from a red Solo cup, not one with a crystal stem.”

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., pointed out that over the years, Mr. Obama has repeatedly promised consumers that once Obamacare went into effect, consumers who liked their insurance plans would be able to keep them.

“Would you recommend to the president that he stop using that term?” Shimkus asked.

Democrats on the committee, meanwhile, criticized their Republican colleagues for their continued attacks against the health law.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., called the issue of health insurers dropping certain insurance plans, “just another red herring.” He pointed out that “this is not socialized medicine, this is private insurance in a competitive market,” making the point that private insurers change their plans all the time to stay competitive.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said that Republicans were behaving like Chicken Little, except, he said, “my Republican colleagues are actually rooting for the sky to fall.”

Engel added, “I don’t think, Madam Secretary, there is one person in this room who is naive enough to think the Republicans actually want this law to work.”

Getting back to the construction of HealthCare.gov, Sebelius said that the contractors who build the site never asked HHS or CMS to delay the site’s launch. CMS administrator Tavenner made the decision in the weeks leading up to the site’s launch to turn off its browsing feature.

“We were anxious to get the website up and running and functional, which we celarly failed to do,” she said. “They pared down some of the features feeling, it would be better to load them later.”

The private contractors who built HealthCare.gov told the Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this month that they only had a couple of weeks to test the site before its launch when months of testing would’ve been preferable. Sebelius acknowledged Wednesday that two weeks for testing was “clearly not” sufficient.

Meanwhile, an internal CMS memo dated Sept. 27 — four days before HealthCare.gov. went live — indicates the government decided to go forward with launching the site even though there were “inherent security risks.” It says the law requires that the federal marketplace systems successfully undergo a Security Control Assessment (SCA) but that “due to system readiness issues, the SCA was only partly completed. This constitutes a risk that must be accepted and mitigated to support the Marketplace Day 1 operations.”

Tavenner signed the authority for HealthCare.gov to operate for six months while a mitigation plan was implemented. The mitigation included establishing a dedicated security team, providing weekly progress reports and conducting a full security assessment within 60 to 90 days of going live.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., suggested in Wednesday’s hearing that the personal data of Americans who sign up through the site is at risk.

“You accepted a risk on behalf of every user of this computer that put their personal financial information at risk because you did not even have the most basic end-to-end test on security of this system,” Rogers said. “Amazon would never do this, ProFlowers would never do this, Kayak would never do this. This is completely an unacceptable level of security.”

Latest Stories

  • News

    Anchorage family wants justice after 12-year-old deaf boy’s dog killed in hit and run

    by Sierra Starks on Sep 30, 20:20

    A broken red collar is a reminder that there’s something missing at Valerie Anderson’s East Anchorage home. It’s the collar that belonged to Scooby Doo, the family’s labrador retriever, who was 12-year-old J.J. Anderson’s best friend. J.J has special needs and wears cochlear implants to hear. The family got Scooby to be a companion for […]

  • Lifestyle

    Make it Alaskan Festival kicks off holiday craft show season

    by Heather Hintze on Sep 30, 18:59

    Like its name suggests, everything you’ll find at the Make it Alaskan Festival is made in Alaska. While most of the 140 vendors came with a complete inventory to the show at the Sullivan Arena, artists like Sarah Chatfield continued to piece together products in their free time. “I try to stay busy while I’m […]

  • News

    UAA team works to find new ways to bring running water to rural Alaska

    by Lauren Maxwell on Sep 30, 18:55

    It’s something most people in Anchorage take for granted — running water. But according to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), more than 3,300 homes in rural Alaska don’t have running water or a flush toilet. Several years ago the DEC started the Water and Sewer Challenge. Teams were challenged to find innovative ways to bring […]

  • News

    APD: 1 dead in West Anchorage industrial accident

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Sep 30, 17:48

    A man was killed, Friday afternoon, when a wall he and another man were removing collapsed, the Anchorage Police Department (APD) wrote in a release. Few details were immediately available, but at 3:34 p.m. emergency responders were called to a four-plex on the 1500 block of W. 40 Avenue. Police said the men were removing […]

  • Lifestyle

    DOF: Alaska wraps up minor fire season

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Sep 30, 15:40

    Alaska had an early start to the wildfire season, but the Division of Forestry (DOF) says the total number of acres burned this year were “well below normal level.” In a release from DOF, the agency wrote there were 558 fires, which burned 500,095 acres. In Interior Alaska, during the two summer months that typically […]

  • News

    UN appoints first expert on LGBT violence and discrimination

    by Associated Press on Sep 30, 15:09

    UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The Human Rights Council has appointed international human rights expert Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand as the first U.N. independent expert charged with investigating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. John Fisher, Geneva director of Human Rights Watch, said his appointment on Friday “made history” and “will bring […]

  • News

    Berkowitz announces cuts to fill $40M budget gap, plans to increase police force

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Sep 30, 13:35

    The Municipality of Anchorage faces an estimated $40 million budget gap, according to numbers released by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz at a meeting Friday. The municipality’s 2017 budget is $502 million, up from $497 million in 2016. “We are dealing with tough times in Anchorage and we are dealing with tough times because the state has […]

  • News

    Consumer demand for Alaska cruises growing again

    by Rachel D'Oro / AP on Sep 30, 13:28

    A growing consumer demand for Alaska cruises has put the state back in the million-passenger club as it rebounds after a leaner stretch. And next year is expected to be even better with larger capacity ships added to the Far North lineup. The millionth passenger was counted as the Alaska cruise industry’s season was nearing […]