Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius defended the new and improved version of the Affordable Heathcare Act website at a House committee hearing on Wednesday, arguing that HHS has drastically improved the site in the past two months.
Throughout the hearing, Sebelius explained to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that while HealthCare.gov’s initial rollout was unacceptable, HHS has taken steps to improve the website and allow more users to select their health care plans.
“The initial launch of Healthcare.gov was flawed, frustrating and unacceptable,” Sebelius said at the outset of her hearing. “Now that the website is working more smoothly, I’ve determined it’s the right time to begin a process of better understanding the structural and managerial policies that led to the flawed launch so we can take action to avoid these problems in the future.”
About 365,000 Americans signed up for health care through state or federal marketplaces in the past two months, Sebelius announced at the hearing. Numbers for November were more than twice those for October, and Sebelius hopes that the numbers will improve throughout December.
Sebelius faced strong criticism from opponents of the Affordable Care Act. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) questioned Sebelius’ provided numbers, stating that not all of the 365,000 Americans who selected health care plans have paid for them at the moment.
“Our concern is that 365,000 number is fraudulent because it’s not those who have purchased plans yet,” Shimkus stated.
Sebelius responded that the Obama administration will not have any details on how many Americans actually paid for their healthcare plans, saying “some may have paid, some may have not” and that she has no way of knowing at the moment because payments are made directly to the insurance companies.
Republicans also questioned application files sent to insurance agencies containing erroneous information. Some 10 percent of these “834” files contain some amount of false information, according to government reports.
“Who is going to guarantee that the doctor who sees the patient on January 4 is actually covered for that visit?” asked Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas).
Sebelius responded that while errors are indeed still occurring, numbers are down from 25 percent in October and that things are only going to improve in time.
“We are in the process of hand-matching individuals with insurance companies,” Sebelius stated.
Sebelius also announced that HHS has spent $319 million on HealthCare.gov so far, and that the agency has been budgeted $677 million for its operation through October 2014.
In a blog post published before her hearing on Wednesday morning, Sebelius also announced the creation of a new “chief risk officer” position at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that oversaw the Obamacare website and hired contractors to design it.
“Now that the website is working more smoothly, I’ve determined it’s the right time to better understand the structural and managerial policies that lead to the flawed launch,” Sebelius told the committee as she shared the announcement.
As a part of these efforts, HHS Inspector Dan Levinson will review the performance of contractors who created the Obamacare website and determine how the site's launch was fumbled in the first place.