This morning Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on the failings of HealthCare.gov, making her the highest ranked official to be questioned over the website flaws.
When the inquiries commenced with Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., asking the first question, it appeared to be more of a platform for Republicans to criticize the Affordable Care Act rather than address website issues, to the point where Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., replied to Upton, "I had to smile about your line of questioning because I thought this hearing was about the website."
[See also: CMS chief pledges Healthcare.gov fix.]
Eventually, however, after asking similar questions about the ACA, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., asked the hardline cost questions to Sebelius. How much has the HealthCare.gov website cost? Sebelius gave straight answers. "We have spent about $118 million on the website itself and about $56 million has been expended on other IT to support the web."
Some $197 million has been obligated to CGI -- one of the major contract vendors in charge of the entire website application -- to last through March 2014. About $104 million of that has already been expended, Sebelius said.
[See also: What happened to Healthcare.gov?]
The website "has not lived up to the expectations of the American people and is not acceptable," said Sebelius in the hearing. "We are committed to fixing these problems as soon as possible."
The federal health insurance exchange website was down again last night and this morning, inviting further criticism from Republican lawmakers.
As Upton pointed out, "The website was supposed to be the easy part." Consumers, Upton added, are "now being forced to go onto an inept website."
Waxman responded that he's tired of the "litany of rejections from Republicans about the Affordable Care Act which has driven them to such a frenzy that they actually closed the government."
When Blackburn took her turn for questioning, she also asked the secretary who was responsible for the website flaws. Sebelius explained that the Verizon cloud server, which hosts many of the websites, was down Saturday into Sunday, and after speaking with the Verizon president, they're reportedly still having issues. After pointing to the shortcomings of many of the vendors, Sebelius responded, "Hold me accountable for the debacle. I'm responsible."
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, made the analogy of Sebelius, who served in the Kansas legislature but was born and raised in Ohio, to The Wizard of Oz's Dorothy: "Madam secretary… you're not in Kansas anymore," a comment that elicited surprise from many and criticism from Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.
No, I don't think we're in Kansas, he said, but, "I do believe we're increasingly in Oz," pointing to the inappropriateness of Barton's comment, which he described as a red herring. "I don't know how you keep your cool," he said to Sebelius, as the Republicans continue to "sabotage the ACA."
Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., complimented Republican lawmakers for at least being consistent. "You love what's wrong in the website, and you detest what's working in the Affordable Care Act." She proceeded to ask Sebelius if HealthCare.gov would indeed be fully working for consumers by the new date of Nov. 30. Sebelius confirmed the website would be fully up and running.