November 7, 2013

Sebelius pressed on flaws, costs, security

Despite the well-chronicled woes of the Obamacare rollout, the HHS secretary said it has improved dramatically.

By David Espo
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies on Oct. 30, 2013, before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the difficulties plaguing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The Associated Press

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HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies Wednesday in Washington at a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

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At the heart of his questioning was the recent flood of millions of cancellation notices that insurance companies have sent to individual policyholders, despite assurances dating to 2009 by the president that people would be able to keep their coverage if they liked it.

Several other Republicans also referred to the cancellations when they questioned Sebelius.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., asked if it violated Obama’s promise that so many plans were canceled for falling short of the law’s coverage requirements. Avoiding a direct response, Sebelius said, “For the vast majority of people who get employer-based health care, are in a public plan, are in the VA plan, are in Medicare, are part of the insurance market, their plans are very much in place. There is change coming in the individual marketplace with consumer protections that many people have never” had.

As senior Republican on the panel, Hatch led off. “While I’m glad that you are accepting responsibility for this disastrous rollout, I would have preferred that you and the rest of the administration were honest with us to begin with,” he said.

Rather than ask Sebelius questions, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas – the secretary is a former governor of the state – used his allotted time to raise numerous complaints about the law and her performance as the administration official in charge.

Roberts, who faces a tea party challenger in a bid for re-election next year, noted delays in parts of the law and said website woes have caused public uncertainty and fear.

“Your main goal should have been to protect Americans, to lessen their risk and to ensure their safety. But in your zeal to implement this law, not warnings, not advice, not counsel would deter you from implementing the exchanges,” he said. “You have said America should hold you for — accountable, which is why today, Madam Secretary, I repeat my request for you to resign.”

Sebelius did not respond.

Applicants’ ID security was another focus. Republicans said the administration put in jeopardy the personal information of Americans by taking the website live before security testing was fully completed.

“So not only can millions of Americans not log in to the website successfully, but those who have actually succeeded could now find themselves at the mercy of identity thieves across the globe,” said Hatch.

Sebelius said security issues were taken very seriously and “no one suggested that the risks outweighed the importance of moving forward” with the Oct. 1 launch date for the new insurance markets.

Federal law requires all government computer systems to have a security certification before going live. Yet on Sept. 27, Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, agreed to a temporary permit that said, “Aspects of the system that were not tested due to the ongoing development exposed a level of uncertainty that can be deemed as a high risk.”

Separately, officials said the chief information security officer at the agency, Tony Trenkle, who was involved in the decision to issue the certificate, is resigning to take a job in the private sector. CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille sidestepped questions about the reasons for the departure.

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