With the debt deal behind them, Congressional Republicans now are turning their attention to the disastrous rollout of Obamacare and are turning up the pressure on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to resign over the fiasco.
Several GOP leaders, including Rep. Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the Government Oversight Committee, Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Commission, and Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, ranking member of the HELP Committee, have sent oversight letters to HHS and vowed to investigate, reports Politico.
“Deadlines have been repeatedly missed. The databases that store sensitive medical and financial information aren’t secure. Those attempting to enroll in health care exchanges have been unable to do so due to technical ‘glitches.’ Worse still, these same individuals will be slapped with a penalty tax for being uninsured,” Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., told the publication.
“If the federal government is unable to manage this website, how can they possibly manage our country’s health care system?” he added.
The White House, meanwhile, is standing by Sebelius, who apparently has no intention of resigning, according to The New York Times.
“The secretary does have the full confidence of the president,” press secretary Jay Carney said earlier this week.
“The fact that people are calling for her head does not surprise her or alarm her particularly. People have been calling for her head for a long time, and it’s still there. I don’t think that fazes her much,” Sebelius’ older brother Donald Gilligan told the Times, adding that his sister was “just digging in on a daily basis and trying to figure out how to fix” the problems that have plagued the website.
So far, though, any fixes seem elusive. A new study by market research company Millward Brown Digital showed that traffic on the website has plummeted since Oct. 1 and that relatively few people have successfully enrolled.
The number of visitors to healthcare.gov dropped from 9.5 million in the first week to 4.1 million in the second week, according to Matthew Pace, a vice president of the firm. And while 196,000 people began to enroll in the first week, only 36,000 finished the process. In the second week, 368,000 began enrollment and just 47,000 completed it.
Questions are also mounting about the contractors, Virginia-based CGI Federal, who received hundreds of millions of dollars, well above the projected cost, to build the failed website.
Reuters is reporting Thursday that U.S. officials warned that the technology behind Obamacare might not be ready for launch and the administration is paying a contractor tens of millions of dollars more than it had planned to fix the problems.
Government documents shows that the contract to build the federal Healthcare.gov tripled in potential total value to nearly $292 million as new money was assigned to the work beginning in April this year, according a Reuters review. All the while, federal and state officials had warned the administration that the technology behind the Obamacare exchanges was in flawed.
Deputy Chief Information Officer Henry Chao said in March that he was “pretty nervous” about the exchanges being ready by Oct. 1, Reuters reports, adding, “let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience.”
Robert Laszewski, a health care consultant who works for insurers, told Politico that the administration was aware of the problems well ahead of time, pointing to an oversight report by the Government Accountability Office in June that pointed to missed deadlines and timetable issues.
“The GAO was being politically correct…it didn’t come out and say this thing is going to crash and burn, but if you go back and read it, it’s pretty obvious,” he said.
Obama’s former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on MSNBC on Monday that the debut had been “excruciatingly embarrassing for the White House and for the Department of Health and Human Services.” After the problems are fixed, he added, “I hope they fire some people.”
But beyond the finger pointing remains the question of what is next for the exchanges.
“Can they put the genie back in the bottle on this one? I don’t think they can,” GOP Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas, the vice chairman of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, told Politico.
“I think the problems are too pervasive and too widespread. I think it may need going back to square one and rewriting the code.”
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