A few weeks ago, President Obama defended his signature health care law as “more than a website”; now lawmakers on both sides are increasingly taking this position as well.
Senate hearings this week showed both parties shifting their Obamacare narratives beyond the rocky rollout of the enrollment website to how the law itself will work more broadly.
“Before we get into the details, I think everyone should take a deep breath,” Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said Tuesday at the hearing with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. “This is, after all, a website. This is a machine that will be fixed.”
Democrats expressing confidence that the website will be fixed is not surprising, but Republicans are notably assuming the same.
“I’m sure you’ll be able to fix the website,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
Both sides remain concerned, but in the grand scheme, two months of website problems — assuming it is running successfully by the end of November — are less important than how the law operates once the website is no longer standing in its way.
On that point, however, lawmakers remain as polarized as ever.
“What I’m more concerned about,” Alexander continued, “are the canceled policies and the inability of people to have time, after you presumably fix the website by the end of November, to replace their policies by Jan. 1 so they’ll actually have health insurance.”
For Republicans, concerns like insurance-policy cancellations and premium increases are indicative of larger problems with the law that need to be addressed.
“The website’s not working? Fine, let’s fix it,” said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, at a Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “But the law is not working. Isn’t it time for a timeout so that we can go in and start finding out why we are seeing premiums go up, not down; why we are seeing people canceled, not being protected in their health care; why we are seeing the failure of the promised operation of the law to occur.”
Democrats’ concerns, on the other hand, are more focused on missed outreach and enrollment.
“What, in your view, Madam Secretary, could Democratic and Republican senators here on the Finance Committee do to make the latest health reforms a success the way the Medicare prescription-drug program has been?” asked Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. The senator drew an oft-made comparison to the now revered Medicare Part D Program that had a notoriously rough start as well.
“I think that it is always welcome to have elected officials in their home states give information to constituents about what the law says, what their options are, what their benefits could be, what choices they have and how to access the process,” Sebelius responded.
There is still much work to be done to fix the website this month. “I would say there are a couple of hundred functional fixes that have been identified,” Sebelius said. “It’s a pretty aggressive schedule to get to the entire punch list by the end of November.”
Yet as improvements continue to be made, lawmakers are increasingly moving beyond HealthCare.gov, and looking forward in terms of implementation of the law.
“Months ago I warned that if the implementation didn’t improve, the marketplaces might struggle,” said Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., of the infamous “train wreck” quote. “We heard multiple times that everything was on track. We now know that was not the case. But that’s in the past. Now it’s time to more forward to figure out how to fix it.”
What We're Following See More »
The House has passed a one-week spending bill that will avert a government shutdown which was set to begin at midnight. Lawmakers now have an extra week to come to a longer agreement which is expected to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September. The legislation now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass before President Trump signs it.
Alexander Acosta was confirmed Thursday night as Labor secretary, officially filling out President Trump's cabinet on day 98 of his presidency. Nine Democrats joined every present Republican in voting to approve Acosta, with the final tally at 60-38. Trump's first choice for Labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, withdrew his nomination after taking criticism for hiring undocumented workers and for other matters in his personal life.
"Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) plans to introduce legislation today designed to help federal agencies update their aging technology—and this time, it has White House backing. Hurd worked alongside White House Office of American Innovation officials Reed Cordish and Chris Liddell in crafting and tweaking the legislation, and called their partnership an 'invaluable' part of the process."
"The State Department plans to cut 2,300 U.S. diplomats and civil servants—about 9 percent of the Americans in its workforce worldwide—as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson presses ahead with his task of slashing the agency’s budget, according to people familiar with the matter. The majority of the job cuts, about 1,700, will come through attrition, while the remaining 600 will be done via buyouts."