Sebelius Takes New Tack in Obamacare’s Latest Trial

Republicans are also hoping to change the conversation, but not in the way the White House wants.

Focused: Rep. Fred Upton oversees Tuesday's hearing.
National Journal
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Sophie Novack
Dec. 11, 2013, 5:31 a.m.

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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