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Sebelius testifies to Congress about healthcare reform issues

Note: This story was updated Thursday, Oct. 31.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, apologized for the botched rollout of the new health insurance exchanges during congressional testimony Wednesday.

Republicans on a U.S. House of Representatives committee chided Sebelius for technical problems with the exchanges.

Noting the American people “deserve better,” Sebelius said she was sorry and added: “I’m accountable to you for fixing these problems and I’m committed to earning your confidence back by fixing the site.”

The online exchanges, where consumers who do not have insurance through their employer can find and purchase health insurance for 2014, have been glitch-ridden since launching Oct. 1. The worst problems have affected, the federal site that hosts exchanges for the 36 states that chose not to run their own. For most people, the site has ranged from slow to inoperable.

The Obama administration’s latest estimate is the site will be functioning at full capacity by late November.

“I know there’s no confidence in that date until we deliver on that,” Sebelius acknowledged.

Later in the day, Obama spoke about the ACA at a scheduled rally in Boston. He said the effectiveness of a similar, state-based law in Massachusetts shows healthcare reform can work.

“I’m confident that these marketplaces will work because Massachusetts has shown that the model works,” Mr. Obama said. “Yeah, it’s hard, but it’s worth it.”

Obama said he takes “full responsibility for making sure [the website] gets fixed A.S.A.P. We are working overtime to improve it every day. … We are going to see this through.”

Tavenner testifies

The country’s top nurse administrator faced tough questions Oct. 30 on Capitol Hill regarding the Affordable Care Act.

Marilyn Tavenner, RN, BSN, MHA, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, testified before the House committee about problems with the health insurance exchanges and other issues. CMS is the federal government agency in charge of implementing the ACA.

“I want to apologize to you that the website is not working as well as it should,” Tavenner said.

“Some [people] have had trouble creating accounts and logging in to the site. Others have received confusing error messages, or had to wait for slow page loads or forms that failed to respond in a timely fashion.”

But, she said, “we will address these initial and any ongoing problems, and build a website that fully delivers on the promise of the Affordable Care Act.”

Tavenner noted the heavy traffic to the site, with 20 million unique page views, indicates the interest in expanded healthcare coverage. But she declined to provide enrollment numbers to date, saying those will be released in mid-November as scheduled.

The Congressional Budget Office has projected 7 million people will receive insurance through the exchanges during the first year. The expectation is the early figures will not be on pace to meet that figure, at least in part because of the glitches.

Tavenner also fielded questions from Republicans wanting to know why some people who already have individual insurance policies are being forced to cancel those and enroll in new coverage under the ACA. Such an outcome runs contrary to pledges from Obama, who said during the debate over the law and last year’s election campaign that people who wanted to keep their insurance could do so after the ACA was implemented.

Insurance companies have canceled some individual policies because the plans do not meet ACA requirements such as an annual limit on out-of-pocket costs and coverage of mental health, maternity and certain other benefits that the law deems as “essential.”

One problem, Republicans on the committee noted, is that the website glitches give people whose policies are being canceled a narrow window in which to find replacement insurance without facing a coverage gap.

Obama spokesman Jay Carney said “a significant portion” of the 5% of the population with individual insurance policies will end up paying less out-of-pocket for better all-around policies. Federal subsidies are available through the exchanges based on income level.

By | 2013-10-30T00:00:00-04:00 October 30th, 2013|Categories: National|0 Comments

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