OPENING REMARKS: HHS Secretary Sebelius at ACA Hearing
As House Republicans take aim at Obamacare on Wednesday, the Obama administration is trying to shift the focus from the website and toward the more flattering parts of the law itself.
In a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius emphasized the law's benefits in her opening statement and the progress that has been made since Oct. 1.
Ahead of the hearing, Sebelius posted to the HHS blog on Wednesday morning, outlining the steps moving forward as the administration tries to prevent a repeat of the HealthCare.gov problems. The posting preempted some Republican concerns by outlining larger steps that will be taken on future projects.
Sebelius has asked Inspector General Dan Levinson to review the development of the federal website; requested that Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner appoint a new CMS chief risk officer; and said HHS will update and expand CMS employee training.
"While there is more work to be done, the team is operating with velocity and effectiveness that matches high performing private sector organizations," she said in her written testimony. "The team will continue to improve and enhance the website in the weeks and months ahead."
Committee Republicans, however, are still demanding answers over what went wrong in the run-up to the website's launch, accusing the administration of being more interested in covering its tracks than in revealing its past missteps.
"No more false promises," Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said. "No more political games. It is time for transparency and the truth."
Republicans are willing to discuss the future, but not on the terms Sebelius would like. The office of House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday released a list of questions for Sebelius, including one that summarizes the GOP's health care messaging strategy in the weeks to come: "What will go wrong next?"
Meanwhile, Democrats like ranking member Henry Waxman and Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey emphasized the improvements being made, and they lamented continued Republican attacks on the law. Both expressed disappointment that the hearing was not rescheduled to accommodate Nelson Mandela's funeral.
Sebelius aims to put the rocky rollout behind the administration and to focus on those gaining coverage through the law.
"The Affordable Care Act is more than a website," Sebelius wrote in her opening statement.
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