Amidst heavy pressure from Republicans, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius will testify before before Congress next week on technological problems hampering the opening of online healthcare insurance exchanges this month.
Set to open Oct. 1, the healthcare.gov website operating new online insurance exchanges for 36 states has been shut down twice and continues to malfunction. Private insurers offering plans on the exchange say they’ve received incomplete applications from eligible beneficiaries applying for coverage. In seeking political gain from the technology problems, Republicans in the House and Senate have demanded Sebelius testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while others have called for her resignation.
House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, accused the secretary of “seeking to avoid accountability and stonewall the public” by refusing to testify at a committee hearing scheduled for Thursday. “What is more important to Secretary Sebelius than providing answers to the American people?” Boehner told reporters in a statement. “I hope President Obama… orders his secretary to fully cooperate with all Congressional inquiries.”
Sebelius plans to visit Phoenix on Thursday, when the committee holds its next scheduled hearing, but said she’d appear before the congressmen next week, following Republican pressure for the past week. Among others, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and several Republican congressmen this week demanded her resignation. Elsewhere on Capitol HIll, Sen. Marc Rubio, a Republican from Florida, told Fox News on Sunday he wanted the secretary to testify before Congress, though he stopped short of calling for her resignation.
On Monday, White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri told MSNBC Obama “has a lot of confidence” in Sebelius. “Implementing this law is a hard piece of policy business,” she said. “It’s a hard piece of technology business and it’s very hard politically.”
The federal government has thus far spent more than $650 million paying technology vendors to build the healthcare exchanges as a key provision of Obamacare. Although half of U.S. states have declined to join the federal expansion of Medicaid, residents of every state will get the option to purchase required healthcare insurance via online exchanges. While 36 states are using healthcare.gov, Vermont is one of 14 states operating their own websites to fulfill the mandate.
According to Vermont Public Radio, those 14 states have fared slightly better than the federal government in introducing their online exchanges, with a total of 46,000 newly enrolled beneficiaries--compared to nearly zero for healthcare.gov.