On Wedneday morning, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the roll-out debacle of Obamacare. Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) called the members of the Committee to order and stated that the purpose of the hearing was to “achieve fairness for the American people, and transparency” in the flawed launch of HealthCare.gov.”
“Americans were assured that their experience would be equivalent to other online experiences such as booking a flight or ordering pizza,” Upton said as he looked straight at Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Today’s hearing is about fairness for the American people who are losing their coverage or seeing their premium skyrocket as high as 400 percent,” Upton said.
Once Sebelius was sworn in and seated before the Committee, the room stilled, reporters positioned cameras and prepared notepads, and all waited with anticipation.
In the summary of her written statement, Sebelius apologized for the flawed launch of HealthCare.gov. She agreed that the flawed launch was a “miserably frustrating experience,” and affirmed the American people that they deserved better. In addition to reporters, interns, and Hill staffers attending the hearing, the members of the gallery ranged from veterans wearing Vietnam or Korea ball caps to tourists who came to the hearing in jeans and tennis shoes.
Questions from members of the Energy and Commerce Committee ranged in topics from the security of Americans’ personal information, the cost of the creation and the maintenance of the website, the lack of freedom in choosing health care options, to how the HHS plans to deal with the November 30 deadline for nationwide coverage.
When Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) asked a question about the cost of the website, she requested that it be pulled up live. As everyone looked towards the screen, HealthCare.gov appeared with a page saying that the system was down. Blackburn asked for a ballpark price for this disabled website; and Sebelius reported that this non-functioning website cost $118 million and has cost an additional $56 million to fix so far. This report was met with a noticeable rise in tension and awkward glances around to gauge others’ reactions.
Overall, the atmosphere of the room was inquisitive and people seemed genuinely interested to get answers on the Obamacare .
One question, however, that didn’t receive a clear answer was Rep. John Shimkus’s (R-Ill) transparency question. Shimkus asked if the American people would be able to see which healthcare plans in the federal exchange offer abortion coverage, and if Sebelius would provide committee members a list of these plans. Sebelius said she “thought” she could provide a list and when pressed further said, “Sir, I can’t tell you what I don’t firmly know right now.” As the time expired, and the floor was given to another congress member for questioning, this question was left with an unsatisfied silence.