“Michelle’s accomplishments over her career have been numerous and wide-ranging,” Tavenner wrote, listing a long series of programs and projects Snyder had worked on.
Snyder headed development of HealthCare.gov, which started freezing soon after it debuted in the beginning of October, then crashed altogether. The site temporarily was removed, underwent a rebuild and was re-introduced in November.
Sebelius countered, “Michelle Snyder is not responsible for the debacle. Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.”
In a recent statement, House Government Reform and Oversight Chairman and California Rep. Darrell Issa had harsh words for Snyder.
“Documents and interviews indicate Michelle Snyder’s involvement in bypassing the recommendation of CMS’ top security expert, who recommended delaying the launch of HealthCare.gov after independent testers raised concern about serious vulnerabilities from a lack of adequate security testing,” Issa said.
“Americans seeking health insurance,” he said, “are left to shoulder the risk of a website that’s still an all-around work in progress because of the cult-like commitment officials had to the arbitrary goal of launching on Oct. 1.”
The former GOP 2012 presidential candidate, and possible 2016 candidate, also took Health and Human Services SecretaryKathleen Sebelius to task for suggesting that Obamacare enrollment would be going a lot smoother if “it weren’t for all those pesky Texans getting in the way,” as the governor put it.
The rules include basic measures like criminal background checks, Perry said, to help protect Texans.
“Secretary Sebelius herself admitted federal navigators underwent no background check at all and could, in fact, be felons,” he continued. “TDI’s rules will help ensure felons, including convicted sex offenders, are not knocking on Texans’ doors under the guise of signing them up for insurance, and that Texans aren’t giving out their most private and sensitive information to someone already convicted of fraud or identity theft.”
Further, Perry noted that even though Sebelius has “bragged” that navigators get 20 hours of training, “it hasn’t prevented fraud documented in published videos showing navigators — who have already completed Secretary Sebelius’ training — encouraging applicants to lie about their income and misstate their smoking habits in order to snare higher subsidies and lower premiums at taxpayer expense.”
A new report by the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also points out the need for overseeing the navigators, he added. The report shows instances in which he said “navigators openly encouraged applicants to commit tax fraud to obtain subsidies they otherwise are not qualified to receive.”
But consumers are still at risk even if they don’t use navigators, the governor said, noting “security flaws” in the Healthcare.gov website that been “widely reported.”
“Clearly, Texas’ concerns about this program are well-founded,” he added.
Perry went on to describe Obamacare as “a colossal disaster and getting worse.”
“Until the Obama administration places the privacy and protection of American consumers above political pushback, Texas will hold the line on protecting our citizens,” Perry declared.
Republican lawmakers are blasting the Obama administration’s decision to exempt large numbers of people from having to buy insurance under Obamacare — a last-ditch attempt to help the millions of people who received insurance cancellation notices because of the new healthcare law.
The administration also downplayed the change, saying the it is expected to affect fewer than 500,000 people.
Democrats have praised the announcement, but Republicans say it’s one more example of a healthcare program that is unworkable.
“We asked Secretary Sebelius point blank what would be the next holiday surprise, and she was silent. Yet, here we are with another major policy shift,” said Tennessee GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fox reports. “The sad reality is that when the law takes effect come Jan. 1, more Americans will be without coverage under Obamacare than one year ago.”
“Less than two weeks from going live, the White House seems to be in full panic mode. Rather than more White House delays, waivers, and exemptions, the administration should provide all Americans relief from its failed law,” she added.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called it a “slap in the face” to those already enrolled in Obamacare.
“Holding a fire sale of cheap insurance is not a responsible fix for a broken program. This is a slap in the face to the thousands of Americans who have already purchased expensive insurance through the Obamacare exchanges,” he said.
The insurance industry also reacted negatively to the news, saying the decision to allow people to sign up for “catastrophic” coverage plans would cause tremendous “instability.”
Issa and Sebelius have been feuding since October, when the lawmaker subpoenaed her for website-related documents, accusing the administration of “failure to provide answers” about what led to the botched launch of HealthCare.gov.
“In light of these requests and the seriousness of our concerns, we would like to work with majority and minority staff for the committee to schedule such a meeting with you” and other leaders, he wrote in the Wednesday letter.
Esquea emphasized there have been no serious attacks on the website; he said HHS could have cybersecurity experts brief the committee, The Hill reports.
The number of people seeking health insurance under the law more than doubled in November to around 250,000, according to a government report released on Wednesday, showing Obamacare is still far from its goal of extending coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.
The website’s disastrous debut created a political crisis for Obama and fellow Democrats.
The new official’s first assignment would be to review information technology contracting and identify the “risk factors that impeded the successful launch of the HealthCare.gov website,” Sebelius said.
Late last month, the Obama administration announced that QSSI, a unit of health insurer UnitedHealth Group, would serve as a general contractor to oversee repairs to HealthCare.gov.
Time published its shortlist of 10 finalists on Monday and will reveal the winner Wednesday. The magazine decides on the candidates by the impact they have had on the news over the past 12 months, and not what they have done — negatively or positively — to contribute to the news.
President Barack Obama is also on the list, along with Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Pope Francis, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and gay rights activist Edith Windsor.
Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, has leaked some 200,000 secret government documents pertaining to matters of national security.
Sebelius, meanwhile, spearheaded the launch of Obamacare this year but has been vilified for the disastrous rollout of the HealthCare.gov website, with many Republicans calling for her to be fired.
Obama, who was Time’s pick last year, has been slammed for falsely promising under his signature healthcare reform law that people would be able to keep their insurance plans and their doctors.
Assad has been accused of killing thousands of his own people in Syria, including women and children, who reportedly died from sarin gas.
Singer Cyrus stunned conservative — and many other — Americans when she performed a shocking dance routine called “twerking” during a duet with Robin Thicke on the MTV Video Music Awards.
And Cruz has been attacked by Democrats, and many in his own party, for causing the 16-day government shutdown in October in an attempt to prevent the launch of Obamacare.
Asked specifically about Snowden, Cheney said, “I would like to see him tried for treason.”
When Cavuto observed that some people view Snowden as a legitimate whistleblower and hero, Cheney replied, “He’s absolutely not. It’s devastating what he’s done to our national security interests.”
“Perhaps they weren’t sure how the rollout was going to go, and this gives him some level perhaps of plausible deniability.
Because, now, the Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is basically taking the fall for this rollout,” Peter Schweitzer, president of the Government Accountability Institute, said on “Fox and Friends.”
White House records indicate that the president met with Sebelius only once face-to-face during the three and a half years before the launch of Obamacare, Breitbart reported, also citing Politico’s presidential schedule calendar.
Schweitzer, president of the watchdog accountability institute, wrote Thursday for Politico Magazine theorizing that the Obamacare rollout suffered from a lack of meetings between Obama and Sebelius. He suggested that it may have been the president’s delegation style that accounted for the lack of meetings, rather than any intentional effort to distance himself from any problems that might turn up.
“(It) could simply be the reflection of the fact that he’s kind of hands-off — that he’s detached, which has been a criticism of this president,” he said on Fox.
The job of a president, however, is to be engaged, Schweizer said. This especially comes into play when it involves the implementation of healthcare legislation that involves “a sixth of our entire national economy.”
“If you’re an executive, you need to know for sure, for darned sure, that the rollout is going to work, and it’s going to go well. It’s really incumbent upon a president to contact the people that are involved in this initiative,” he said.
Schweizer also said Obama‘s chief advisers, such as Valerie Jarrett, bear the blame for Obamacare’s failures as well because they should in effect know better. He said any presidents should always “surround themselves with people who recognize their shortcomings, or perhaps, their weaknesses.”
Congressional efforts this week demanding that HHS SecretaryKathleen Sebelius explain why the Obamacarewebsite was launched before security issues were resolved comes after the administration repeatedly dismissed such concerns and stonewalled oversight efforts in the rush to meet the Oct. 1 deadline.
Senate Finance Committee Republicans wrote on Tuesday to Sebelius saying they had “serious questions” about the “privacy and security of the very detailed personal information being transmitted through the Federally Facilitated Marketplace.”
“The evidence is mounting that the website did not go through proper testing, including critical security testing, and that the administration ignored repeated warnings from contractors about ongoing problems,” Issa said.
The Congressional demands for answers this week comes after previous warnings raising red flags about security issues relating to the Obamacare rollout were largely ignored by the administration.
An Aug. 2 Health and Human Services Inspector General report said that an assessment of the Obamacare website’s security standards could not be offered because CMS failed to meet several deadlines to submit final security documents.
In June, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, raised alarm bells about security involving the health insurance exchange navigators in a letter sent to Sebelius.
Committee staffers confirmed to Newsmax that Sebelius never responded to the request for clarification of security measures. Hatch and his Republican committee colleagues sent a follow-up letter on the same issue to Sebelius earlier this month, setting a Nov. 12 deadline for HHS to respond.
The administration also ignored the internal warnings contained in a Sept. 27 internal memo about a “high risk” of fraud and abuse in the Healthcare.gov rollout, choosing to proceed with the program’s debut Oct. 1 without delay.
CMS Administer Marylin Tavenner, who reports to Sebelius, received the internal memo expressing concerns that the Obamacare website was not sufficiently secure, but decided to continue with the scheduled roll-out.
The memo to Tavenner – from CMS officials James Kerr, consortium administrator for health plan operations, and Deputy Chief Information Officer Henry Chao – raised serious concerns about the security of applicants’ personal data.
The memo warned that because the computer code has not been “tested in a single environment,” there are “inherent security risks.” The memo recommended taking further measures to address risks, but none included delaying the launch.
The August inspector’s general report stated that it could not assess efforts by CMS to safeguard the security system because the data it received from the agency was incomplete due to repeated missed deadlines.
“Because the documents were still drafts, we could not assess CMS’s efforts to identify security controls and system risks for the Hub and implement safeguards and controls to mitigate identified risks. … If there are additional delays in completing the security authorization package, the CMS CIO [chief information officer] may not have a full assessment of system risks and security controls needed for the security authorization,” the Inspector General stated.
Less than a month before the launch date, Kay Daly, assistant inspector general for audit services, testified at a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee that “CMS has reported to us that it has made additional progress on these key milestones, including obtaining its security authorization for the Hub on September 6, 2013.” Daly added that officials in the OIG’s office “have not independently verified CMS’s progress since completing our audit.”
On October 1, CMS went ahead and launched the website with only a temporary “authority to operate” certificate.
The letter from the Senate Finance Committee Republicans indicated that action may have violated the law.
The senators said it was their understanding that “each Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) system is required by law to obtain an Authority to Operate (ATO) certification that attests the system has met all testing requirements before it is placed into operation.”
For consumers who heed President Barack Obama’s advice to bypass the website and directly call health insurance exchange phone centers, their health information may not be any more secure.
Because there is no statutory requirement for call center staffers, also known as “navigators,” to undergo complete background checks, questions have been raised about standards set by HHS to ensure patient privacy.
State officials also have expressed security concerns, particularly fears that the “navigators” may pose a threat to patient data.
Questions about what steps HHS has taken to ensure the navigators are properly trained and vetted, as well as what standards are in place to ensure patient privacy, were raised in an August letter penned by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
Morrisey wrote the letter to Sebelius on behalf of 12 other state attorneys general, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.
“It is not enough to simply adopt vague policies against fraud,” Morrisey said. “There are significant holes in the rules HHS has implemented already. We are very concerned about the risk of identity theft if those holes aren’t addressed immediately or if the implementation of healthcare exchanges isn’t delayed to allow for better regulations, more training for consumer outreach programs and better fraud prevention.”
“These vague ‘standards’ could open up a Pandora’s box of privacy and security issues for consumers, states and even the federal government. Consumer privacy will be catch-as-catch-can in each program. It seems inevitable that personnel will be inadequately screened and trained, and they will be more prone to misappropriate private data – whether intentionally or unintentionally. This is a disaster waiting to happen,” Morrisey added.
The fears are not unfounded as news reports have identified breaches.
In September, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that a Minnesota state health insurance exchange employee accidentally sent an email file with Social Security numbers, names, business addresses and other identifying information on more than 2,400 insurance agents to a local insurance company.
While Florida is one of the states that conducts background checks and has barred navigators from working at state and county health centers, Republican Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida has introduced the “Security Before Access Act” to address inherent inadequacies in the structure, security, and integrity of the navigator program.
“It is ridiculous that navigators have such easy unsolicited access to people’s personal information and that these same navigators aren’t required by all states to undergo background checks,” Ross told Newsmax.
“I think we can all agree that information security is of utmost importance. It’s unacceptable that the president is dead set on hastily implementing this law when there are inherent grave security concerns,” Ross said.
The bill would create licensing requirements for individuals seeking to become navigators, including background checks and would allow consumers to opt out of Obamacare individual mandate for insurance coverage until Congress has been assured that the navigator program is secure and has fully-implemented security protocols in place.
Republican Rep. Diane Black of Tennessee noted recently that the navigators “have no federal requirement to undergo background checks” which increases “the potential for identity theft and fraud is staggering, and why I have been trying to call attention to this issue since I first learned of it.”
“The administration’s failure to provide answers about what led to the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov and what is being done to fix it is completely unacceptable,” the California Republican said.
“The evidence is mounting that the website did not go through proper testing, including critical security testing, and that the Administration ignored repeated warnings from contractors about ongoing problems,” he said.
The subpoena demands any documents linked to the malfunctioning website’s technical issues, including the testing process that went into the site as well as the number of people enrolled in the program through the Nov. 13 deadline for delivery of the information.
Issa previously requested the same information from Sebelius on Oct. 10 and Oct. 24. After Sebelius had balked at releasing details about the troubled website since its Oct. 1 launch, Issa had warned that he would use a subpoena to get the information.
Issa said that Obamacare has “given us skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs, fewer choices, and the cancellation of millions of people’s current health insurance coverage.”
Maintaining that the website is “just the beginning of the problems with the healthcare law,” he added that the nation deserves to “know why the Administration spent significant taxpayer money on a product that is entirely dysfunctional and puts their personal information at risk.”
Issa also declared that “the president’s signature legislative achievement” contradicted his promise that if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it.
The Obama administration will face intense pressure next week to be more forthcoming about how many people have actually succeeded in enrolling for coverage in the new insurance markets. Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner is to testify during a House hearing on Tuesday, followed Wednesday by Sebelius before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The officials will also be grilled on how such crippling technical problems could have gone undetected prior to the website’s Oct. 1 launch.
“The incompetence in building this website is staggering,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., the second ranking Republican on the panel and an opponent of the law.
Democrats said the new system needed time to get up and running, and it could be fixed to provide millions of people with affordable insurance. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, said the system was “working in Kentucky,” a state that has dealt with “some of the worst health statistics in the country … The only way we’re going to get ourselves out of the ditch is some transformational tool,” like the new health insurance system.
Blackburn said she wanted to know much has been spent on the website, how much more it will cost to fix the problems, when everything will be ready and what people should expect to see on the site. Blackburn and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., raised questions of whether the website could guard the privacy of applicants.
“The way the system is designed it is not secure,” said Rogers, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
The botched rollout has led to calls on Capitol Hill for a delay of penalties for those remaining uninsured. The Obama administration has said it’s willing to extend the grace period until Mar. 31, the end of open enrollment. That’s an extra six weeks. The insurance industry says going beyond that risks undermining the new system by giving younger, healthier people a pass.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who is seeking a yearlong delay to the penalty for noncompliance, said his approach would “still induce people to get involved, but it will also give us the time to transition in. And I think we need that transition period to work out the things.” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who has urged the Obama administration to postpone the March 31 deadline, said she was concerned applicants would not have a full six months to enroll.
The administration was under no legal requirement to launch the website Oct 1. Sebelius, who designated her department’s Medicare agency to implement the health care law, had the discretion to set open enrollment dates. Officials could have postponed open enrollment by a month, or they could have phased in access to the website.
But all through last summer and into early fall, the administration insisted it was ready to go live in all 50 states on Oct. 1.
The online insurance markets are supposed to be the portal to coverage for people who do not have access to a health plan through their jobs. The health care law offers middle-class people a choice of private insurance plans, made more affordable through new tax credits. Low-income people will be steered to Medicaid in states that agree to expand that safety net program.
An HHS memo prepared for Sebelius in September estimated that nearly 500,000 people would enroll for coverage in the marketplaces during October, their first month of operation. The actual number is likely to be only a fraction of that. The administration has said 700,000 people have completed applications.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the president had been poorly served by Sebelius “in the implementation of his own signature legislature. So if somebody doesn’t leave and if there isn’t a real restructuring, not just a 60-day somebody come in and try to fix it, then he’s missing the point of management 101, which is these people are to serve him well, and they haven’t.”
Blackburn spoke on “Fox News Sunday,” Beshear appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Rogers was on to CNN’s “State of the Union,” Manchin was interviewed on ABC’s “This Week,” and Shaheen and Issa made their comments on CBS “Face the Nation.”