House committee to probe ObamaCare implementation, Sebelius refuses to attend hearing

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will this week begin looking into the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its very large role in implementing the federal ObamaCare health insurance exchange, Healthcare.gov, which was launched early this month in an embarrassing fashion.

Since launching on October 1, the federal exchange has been plagued by glitches and errors, making the experience very frustrating for many users. The lack of server capacity, faulty design and software, and a strategic decision to put income verification at the start of the enrollment process have all been cited as reasons for the programs.

These problems have led to lower than expected enrollment numbers, though the Obama Administration won’t confirm how many people have actually enrolled in a health insurance plan through the exchanges. The embarrassing role out also seriously contradicts claims made by the administration and contracted companies working to implement the exchanges.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), who chairs the committee, invited HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to appear at the October 24 hearing, “PPACA Implementation Failures: Didn’t Know or Didn’t Disclose?” Sebelius, however, has declined to attend because of a scheduling conflict.

Upton sent Sebelius a letter urging her to reconsider. The letter was cosigned by other Republican leaders on the committee, including Chairman Emeritus Joe Barton (R-TX) and Committee Vice Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

“These events conflict with the testimony given by Department officials before this committee regarding [ObamaCare] implementation. The failure of the exchanges also raises serious questions concerning the billions of taxpayer dollars spent by the Department to implement the program,” wrote Upton and other committee leaders.

“Compounding the problem is the administration’s refusal to delay the law’s unfair individual mandate, therefore subjecting Americans to a requirement to purchase insurance despite the exchanges’ numerous problems, including unaffordable health insurance premiums and significant security risks,” they continued. Upton and the other committee leaders noted she was invited to appear and declined.

“We respectfully request that HHS reconsider its refusal to appear before the committee on October 24. We believe the American people deserve answers to important questions related to the Department’s implementation of the exchanges, and a failure to appear voluntarily to discuss the law’s unfolding challenges would only deepen our concerns,” they added.

In a press release from the committee, Upton said that Sebelius’ refusal to attend is “wholly unacceptable.”

“Secretary Sebelius had time for Jon Stewart, and we expect her to have time for Congress,” said Upton. The HHS Secretary appeared on The Daily Show earlier this month and struggled mightly while trying to answer Stewart’s questions. Her answers led Steward to snark, “Well, maybe she’s just lying to me.”

The pressure is beginning to build on Sebelius, who may become President Obama’s scapegoat for the troubles, to attend the hearing. The Wall Street Journal noted on Friday that is “[d]ucking” the investigation. “Eventually Mrs. Sebelius will have to make a real accounting of this government failure to someone other than the TV comic Jon Stewart, and perhaps she can also explain why the people who can’t build a working website also deserve the power to reorganize one-sixth of the U.S. economy,” the Journal explained. “For now, the Administration that styles itself as the most transparent in history won’t reveal the truth—perhaps because it is afraid of what the public will find.”

What answers the House will get without cooperation from the Obama Administration is anybody’s guess. But a full accounting of the problems, given what’s on the line, will have to come to light, preferably sooner rather than later.


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