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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

House Lawmakers Grill Sebelius On Health Law Rollout

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is surrounded by photographers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, prior to testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the difficulties plaguing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is surrounded by photographers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, prior to testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the difficulties plaguing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee today.

As Republicans call for her resignation, she’s facing questions about the troubled roll out of the Affordable Care Act.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.


I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. In a few minutes, to Egypt, where things are heating up ahead of next week's trial of former President Mohammed Morsi.

HOBSON: But first, to Capitol Hill, where Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius faced tough questions in the House Energy and Commerce Committee today on the subject of the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act, and specifically the website, Sebelius opened with an apology.


SECRETARY KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: I am as frustrated and angry as anyone with the flawed launch of So let me say directly to these Americans: You deserve better. I apologize. I'm accountable to you for fixing these problems. And I'm committed to earning your confidence back by fixing the site.

HOBSON: Joining us now is NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner. Julie, people are looking for someone to blame for all of this, and specifically the problems with Did the secretary take that blame today?

JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: She absolutely did. She said on several different occasions that this is her responsibility. She takes the blame. She tried very hard not to throw anybody in her department under the bus, even though several members of the committee tried to find people, wanted her to name names, wanted her to blame contractors, wanted - several people were sort of asked by name, including Gary Cohen, who's the deputy director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who had been up on Capitol Hill telling members of this very committee that things were ready to go in late September. She said she would not ask for his resignation.

HOBSON: Another thing that she's been asked about is how many people have enrolled so far, and this has been a big question all along. She didn't really give many details on that. She said that health insurance companies are not receiving reliable data. Let's listen to her here talking to Representative Lee Terry of Nebraska.


SEBELIUS: I want to give you reliable, confirmed data from every state and from the federal marketplace. We have said that we will do that on a monthly basis by the middle of the month. You will have that data, but I don't want to turn over anything that is not confirmed and reliable, and that's what we'll do.

REPRESENTATIVE LEE TERRY: Well, but that data out there exists, and you will not let us...

SEBELIUS: Sir, I would tell you right now it is not reliable data, according to the insurance companies, who are eager to have customers. They are not getting reliable data all the way through the system.

HOBSON: Julie Rovner, how did that go over?

ROVNER: Actually, that was very interesting. You know, we've been - we reporters have been pressing for this enrollment data, also. And we've all been getting stonewalled - we, members of Congress. And, of course, mostly, we've just been getting over and over again from everybody in the administration: We're going to tell you in mid-November. We're going to tell you in mid-November. This was the first time we've seen a high administration official basically confirm that we're not getting this information because the insurers are still not getting good information.

We've heard that sort of anecdotally from insurers, that the information they're getting at the back end is not reliable. This is the first time we've heard someone certainly as high as Secretary Sebelius say that they're still not getting good information. She said that's among their highest priorities to fix.

We know from what we've heard anecdotally that the information that's getting through from people who have successfully enrolled is not always the best. There are things that are missing from that enrollment data. Sometimes there are things that are duplicative. This has been a serious problem right now, when it's only a few people who've managed to enroll, not a big problem. But once they get that website up and running, and they get, you know, tens of thousands of people enrolled, if that information is not accurate, it's going to be a big problem for those insurance companies.

HOBSON: And what about this other big criticism of the Affordable Care Act in general, which is that people are starting to receive cancelation notices of their existing health insurance because the insurance no longer meets the requirement of the law? Tell us, what did we learn about that today, if anything?

ROVNER: That's right. This is sort of the new line of attack, particularly for Republicans, but obviously, it is something that's happening. We do know there are potentially hundreds of thousands, maybe in the low millions of people who are getting these notices that their individual insurance policies - these are mostly people in the individual market - are ending, and that they will be basically asked to either buy new policies from those insurers or to go into the exchanges.

There is a concern that if the exchange - the exchanges are not working and up and running, that they might not be able to get new policies in time for January 1st, when a lot of these policies are going to run out. It is a worry, and it's something that the administration has really been sort of caught flat-footed. It's also something the administration has had trouble with from a PR point of view, because, of course, the president was out there so much, really from his, you know, first campaign through his second campaign fighting for the law, saying if you like your insurance policy, you can keep it. That's turning out to really not quite be the case.

HOBSON: Well, and you mentioned the president. He's going to be in Boston today, talking about the health care law and presumably making connections with the rollout - which was not always speedy - in Massachusetts, of the law in this state.

ROVNER: That's right, and they're going to point out that, you know, that first month that it was in effect, I think there were 123 people who signed up in Massachusetts. And then it ramped up, as the deadline got closer. They're saying - and Secretary Sebelius said this, too - they expect to have very small numbers for this early part, and that it will go up as this moves forward.

HOBSON: NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner, thanks, as always.

ROVNER: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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