Kicking off two days of hearings in Congress with high profile Obama Administration officials, the official in charge of healthcare.gov told lawmakers the first four weeks of the insurance signup web site did not go as planned, but she vowed that the process would be turned around for consumers in coming weeks.
“I want to apologize to you that the web site has not worked as well as it should,” said Marilyn Tavenner, who heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“I want to assure you that healthcare.gov can and will be fixed,” Tavenner added in her opening remarks to the House Ways and Means Committee.
In her written testimony, Tavenner pointed the finger of blame for the web site troubles directly at contractors who testified last week before a different House panel.
“Unfortunately, a subset of those contracts for healthcare.gov have not met expectations,” Tavenner said.
Tavenner’s explanation though didn’t go far with Republicans on the panel, who pushed the Medicare chief to detail how many people have signed up for insurance coverage so far in October.
“Administrator Tavenner, how many people have enrolled in the exchanges?” asked Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI).
“We have over 700,000 who have completed applications,” said Tavenner, starting a series of non-answers to Camp.
“So you know the applicants; do you know the enrollees?” Camp pressed.
“We will not have that until mid-November,” Tavenner responded, something she repeated multiple times during the hearing.
Republicans though say many of those 700,000 applications have been for Medicaid coverage, citing numbers from states like Washington, which Monday night said 48,995 people have completed enrollments – but only 6,390 of those were for an insurance plan.
Camp pursued that with Tavenner as he raised an internal memo leaked to the Associated Press which showed the Obama Administration expected almost 500,000 people to sign up for insurance coverage just in October.
“That means you are likely to hit less than one quarter of this October estimate of 494,620,” Camp said.
Most states have not released official numbers on insurance enrollment – especially among the 36 states operating through the federal exchange. One estimate from Oklahoma last week pegged the number of signups at around 100 people.
As for Democrats, they mainly used the hearing to attack Republicans, charging the GOP is doing all it can to undermine the health law at every turn.
“Health care is a right and not a privilege,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who at one point compared GOP opposition to the health law to the “nullification” strategy used by some southern states during the fight over civil rights legislation.
The hearing with Tavenner should serve as a warmup for a hearing on Wednesday with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has taken most of the flak from Republicans about the troubled start of open enrollment for the Obama health law.