US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Republican Health Committee Senators Confront Administration About Obamacare Failures

In hearing with CMS head Tavenner, senators raise questions about canceled policies, higher premiums, broken website, security issues

Tuesday, November 05, 2013Liz Wolgemuth 202-228-4729

In hearing with CMS head Tavenner, senators raise questions about canceled policies, higher premiums, broken website, security issues

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 – At a hearing of the Senate health committee today, Republican senators questioned Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, on the rollout of the health care law—specifically, canceled insurance policies, higher premiums, the broken website and related security issues.

On canceled insurance policies:

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the committee’s senior Republican, said to Tavenner: “Let me suggest that a way to fix this problem of canceled policies in the individual market is to go to a website that does work pretty well. It still says: ‘If you like your plan you can keep it and you don’t have to change a thing due to the health care law.’ That’s the White House website. And those are the president’s words in 2009. So why don’t we put those words into law?”

Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said: “On Saturday, 2,600 people in Wyoming had their policies cancelled. Three years ago I noticed that the rules were changing and that people would not be able to keep what they had been promised. We had a little debate on a resolution I introduced to repeal the rule that would prevent them from keeping the policy they like. It was voted down on party lines and I think some people will be paying for that in the next election.”

Enzi, an accountant by trade, also asked CMS to assure the HELP Committee that the firm responsible for the website would not be paid any additional money to fix its own mistakes to date.

On higher premiums:

Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said: “The tremendous failures of the Obamacare website are only the tip of the iceberg. This law presents far more problems and challenges, but the biggest ones of all are the premium increases for the people who can least afford them. For example, in rural Georgia, premiums are more than doubling in some cases and health care costs are going through the roof. On behalf of those Georgians, I demand that the administration address these problems. We need to make sure that requiring so much coverage does not have the unintended consequence of running people out of their coverage rather than providing them with the coverage they need and can afford.”

On security issues:

Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) asked Tavenner: “One of the requirements is end-to-end testing, but, again, you signed on September 27th the authority to operate the website and the memo noted this, and I quote, ‘from the security perspective, the aspects of the system that were not tested due to the ongoing development expose the level of uncertainty that can be deemed as a high risk for federally facilitated marketplace systems.’ Did you bring that security concern to the Secretary’s attention and the OMB’s attention?”

Tavenner responded, “I did not.”

Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) asked Tavenner: “We keep getting assurances from the administration that the data within the failed healthcare.gov website is secure and that patient privacy is protected, but where is the proof? They won’t share the data with us. What are the administration’s plans for protecting privacy? Why can’t they be transparent? Who is accountable for this mess?”

On the broken website:

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said: “As of the 29th of October, Enroll Alaska confirmed that there were three Alaskans who had successfully enrolled.  There is nobody else who has stepped forward to say they successfully enrolled in the exchange from Alaska… One of the things that was troubling in that meeting was to hear that the three people who have enrolled have been given incorrect information.”

“Unlike what some might believe here, the sun does not rise and set over Washington, DC or in Eastern Standard Time. So when a family finishes up dinner, does the dishes and puts the kids to bed in Alaska, 9pm is 1am. At the time period when Alaskans can sit and move through any aspect of this exchange, you’re shutdown.  When will this site be available for all Americans to take a look at?”

Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said in the hearing, "This is a tale of two beltway bandits," referring to the contractors responsible for implementing healthcare.gov, CGI and QSSI. "Taxpayers deserve to know the full details of where their money is going, particularly in light of this disaster." He went further to ask if they can stop the next scheduled payment of $100 million to CGI Federal.

Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said: “We are now 30 days into one of the greatest website disasters in history. After nearly $400 million, healthcare.gov is synonymous with failure. The public trust has been broken.”

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