Sebelius: I'm Sorry, Blame Contractors

As Republicans grill her and Democrats prop her up

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Oct 30, 2013 9:10 AM CDT | Updated Oct 30, 2013 12:42 PM CDT

(Newser) – Kathleen Sebelius apologized for ObamaCare's flubbed web debut in her testimony on Capitol Hill today, but stopped short of falling on her sword. "Access to HealthCare.gov has been a miserably frustrating experience for way too many Americans," she said, according to Fox News. "You deserve better. I apologize. I'm accountable for fixing these problems." But she laid the blame on the contractors, the Washington Post points out. "CMS has a track record of success" she said, but its work on HealthCare.gov has "not met expectations."

Predictably, Sebelius' interrogators on the House Energy and Commerce Committee ping-ponged between outraged Republicans and supportive Democrats. "The secretary and her colleagues at HHS repeatedly looked us in the eye and testified that everything was on track," chair Fred Upton complained. Instead "malfunctions have become the norm. Americans are scared and frustrated." He also brought up the issue of customers losing their policies. Senior Democrat Henry Waxman, on the other hand, downplayed the problems. "The Affordable Care Act is working," he said. "I would urge my colleagues to stop hyperventilating." Other notable moments from the hearing included:

  • Mike Rogers confronted Sebelius with an administration memo, acquired by the AP, indicating that the site hadn't been tested enough, and hence could present a "high" security risk. "You accepted a risk on behalf of every user that put their personal information at risk," he said. Sebelius said the system was secure.
  • In another exchange she acknowledged a "theoretical" security flaw spotted by a tech blogger, but said it was "immediately fixed.
  • Sarah Kiff at Wonkblog thought the most important moment of the hearing was when Sebelius acknowledged that, "we're not getting reliable data." She said the administration had prioritized this because, "believe me, insurance companies [want] to get reliable data."
  • Republicans returned to the cancellations issue again and again, bringing up the Post's fact check. Sebelius said there was "no change" to the grandfather clause, which NBC alleged, and that Obama was keeping his promise to let people keep their coverage. Republicans weren't satisfied, taking issue with the law's imposed standards. "Some people like to drive a Ford, not a Ferrari," Marsha Blackburn said. "You're taking away their choice."
  • Sebelius said she wouldn't ask for the resignation of Gary Cohen, the face of the IT effort behind the site.
  • In weird rhetorical flourishes news: Early on Joe Barton referenced the Wizard of Oz. "Madam Secretary, while you're from Kansas, we're not in Kansas anymore," but rather a "parallel universe." Numerous other Congresspeople referenced the remark, either mocking it or agreeing.
  • When asked whether President Obama was to blame for the problems, Sebelius replied, "No, sir."
  • Asked about the controversial decision not to let people browse policies without signing up, Sebelius said Medicaid honcho Marilyn Tavenner had made that call. "We were anxious to get the website up" so "they pared down some of the features."
  • Renee Ellmers asked Sebelius, "To the best of your knowledge, has a man ever given birth to a baby?" She was arguing that ObamaCare's standards mandated potentially unnecessary maternity coverage.
  • Sebelius raised a number of eyebrows by saying that the website "has never crashed," only slowed to a crawl. But the website was actually down as she spoke (and throughout the hearing). John Boehner's office has already sent an email seeking to make hay about the remark, CNN reports.

Kathleen Sebelius prepares to testify on Capitol Hill, Oct. 30, 2013,  before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the problems plaguing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Kathleen Sebelius prepares to testify on Capitol Hill, Oct. 30, 2013, before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the problems plaguing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.   (AP Photo/ J. Scott Applewhite)
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