Sebelius orders review of Obamacare website woes
WASHINGTON, DC– Call it a pre-emptive strike. Hours ahead of her appearance Wednesday before a House subcommittee certain to grill her on the botched launch of the Obamacare website, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced an internal review of what happened and why.
Then her department released the latest enrollment figures for President Barack Obama’s signature health care reforms, showing a big increase in November after the site’s problem-plagued rollout on October 1.
The moves appeared to be timed to blunt expected criticism by the Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health of the reforms known as Obamacare and Sebelius, the Cabinet secretary in charge of implementing them.
A chorus of GOP critics have called for her to be fired over the failure of the website that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to perform properly.
Here is a rundown of the major Obamacare developments Wednesday:
Let’s have a look
In a blog post early Wednesday, Sebelius said that Dan Levinson, the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, would review what happened with the “flawed and simply unacceptable” launch of the HealthCare.gov website.
“I believe strongly in the need for accountability, and in the importance of being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” she said, adding that “we need a thorough review of the contractor performance and program management structure that resulted in the flawed launch of the website.”
In particular, Levinson will “review the acquisition process, overall program management, and contractor performance and payment issues related to the development and management” of the website, her blog post said.
“We will take action to address the inspector general’s findings,” she added.
New enrollment figures
A few days earlier than planned, the administration announced Wednesday that nearly 365,000 people signed up for health coverage under new exchanges created by Obamacare in the first two months of enrollment.
The figure was a big increase over the 106,000 who signed up the first month, when the computer problems undermined enrollment, but still well below the needed pace to reach the target of 7 million by the March 31, 2014 deadline.
Officials say traffic has increased even more since they completed upgrades to the website at the end of last month.
Through November, just over 137,200 Americans obtained an insurance policy through HealthCare.gov and nearly 227,500 through the 14 state-run exchanges, according to the new federal figures.
An additional 1.94 million people have started the process but had yet to pick a policy. Consumers must purchase health insurance by December 23 and pay the first premium by the end of the year for coverage to begin January 1.
Sign-ups vary widely by state. More than 107,000 Californians have picked plans, compared to only 44 Oregonians. Florida leads the way in the federal exchange, with nearly 18,000 people picking plans, while North Dakota has only 265 enrollees.
Led by conservative Republicans, critics continue to attack Obamacare as an example of big government run amok, and Wednesday’s House subcommittee hearing promised fresh salvos aimed at Sebelius.
A Twitter post from House Speaker John Boehner called for people to submit questions for Sebelius, keeping with a Republican campaign to highlight personal stories of problems people have encountered with Obamacare.
The blog post by Sebelius amounted to a sneak preview of her testimony, emphasizing steps she is taking to find out what happened and prevent future problems.
In addition to the inspector general’s review, Sebelius also said a new position would be created in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that implements Obamacare to minimize risks from major policy initiatives.
A third step called for better training for CMS employees on “best practices” for hiring and working with contractors.
By Tom Cohen
CNNMoney’s Tami Luhby and CNN’s Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.
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