Health Care

Sebelius Says She’s Responsible, So Why Is the Administration Pointing Fingers?

Complaints about Obamacare? Blame the insurance companies. Or the contractors. Or the press.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius prepares to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the troubled launch of the website October 30, 2013.
National Journal
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Sam Baker
Oct. 30, 2013, 6:03 a.m.

Com­plaints about Obama­care? Blame the in­sur­ance com­pan­ies. Or the con­tract­ors. Or the press.

Over the past three days, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has blamed al­most every­one but it­self for the de­bacle that is Health­ and the wave of can­cel­la­tions that con­sumers are now re­ceiv­ing.

Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us did take some re­spons­ib­il­ity for the web­site on Wed­nes­day, telling a House pan­el to hold her ac­count­able for the site’s fail­ures.

But that con­ces­sion came only after HHS had poin­ted the fin­ger at three oth­er parties in less than three days.

Se­beli­us’ pre­pared testi­mony for Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing put the re­spons­ib­il­ity for Health­ squarely on the con­tract­ors who built it, re­ject­ing their com­plaints about poor man­age­ment from HHS.

Asked about the wave of can­cel­la­tions hit­ting people in the in­di­vidu­al in­sur­ance mar­ket, Se­beli­us knocked the press.

Se­beli­us said it’s “im­port­ant to be ac­cur­ate” about plan can­cel­la­tions, which are get­ting fresh at­ten­tion this week be­cause of an NBC News re­port. The re­port might have hyped old in­form­a­tion — HHS said in 2010 that most ex­ist­ing in­di­vidu­al plans would end— but that in­form­a­tion isn’t in­ac­cur­ate.

A day earli­er, Se­beli­us’ deputy said it’s not the Af­ford­able Care Act caus­ing in­surers to can­cel cov­er­age, but simply the in­surers’ choice. And can­cel­la­tions are only hap­pen­ing be­cause in­surers offered lousy plans, she said.

“Half of the people in the in­di­vidu­al mar­ket pri­or to 2010 didn’t stay on their policies,” said Mar­ilyn Taven­ner, the ad­min­is­trat­or of the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vices. “They were either kicked off for pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions, they saw their premi­ums go up at least 20 per­cent a year, and there were no pro­tec­tions for them. And some­times they were in plans that they thought were fine un­til they ac­tu­ally needed to hos­pit­al­iz­a­tion, and they found out it didn’t cov­er hos­pit­al­iz­a­tion or it didn’t cov­er can­cer.”


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