President Obama’s top health care official said Wednesday that she wants her agency’s inspector general to investigate the flawed rollout of the federal Obamacare website, a portal that has cost at least $677 million and is crucial to the White House’s push to get Americans covered as hard deadlines loom.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Congress that she will revamp the way the agency procures technology and facilitates communication among its employees, now that the most glaring problems with HealthCare.gov have been fixed and the pace of enrollments appears to be quickening.
“Now that the website is working more smoothly, I’ve determined it’s the right time to begin a process of better understanding the structural and managerial policies that led to the flawed launch so we can take action and avoid these problems in the future,” Mrs. Sebelius told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
She gave the testimony one hour after the administration formally released updated Obamacare enrollment data for all 50 states. All told, nearly 1.2 million found coverage through Obamacare from Oct. 1 to Nov. 30. About 365,000 chose private health care plans, and 803,000 were determined to be eligible for Medicaid.
About 227,000 people signed up for private insurance through the 15 state-run exchanges and more than 137,000 through HealthCare.gov, HHS said.
The federal system’s tally amounts to more than four times the number of enrollments it chalked up in October alone — an indication that the Obama administration’s “tech surge” to fix glitches on HealthCare.gov took hold with the public, or that users pulled the trigger after surveying their options for several weeks.
“The trajectory is moving in the right direction,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “And that’s something that we’re encouraged by.”
Yet it might be too late for the administration to reach its goal of getting private coverage for 7 million Americans by the end of open enrollment March 31, or for those who recently lost coverage to explore their options and enroll before the Dec. 23 deadline to have coverage by the new year.
Republican critics of the law are not impressed by the overhaul’s slow progress, citing constituents who lost existing health care plans that did not meet Obamacare’s coverage requirements. Some noted that the 365,000 figure did not detail how many people lacked health insurance and how many were signing up for Obamacare because their plans had been canceled.
“As we go into this Christmas season and the new year, more people will have lost their health plan than have signed up or received it from Obamacare,” said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, California Republican.
Mrs. Sebelius‘ appearance on Capitol Hill allowed Republicans to air a range of other doubts about Mr. Obama’s reforms.
Rep. John Shimkus, Illinois Republican, vented frustration after the secretary rebuffed his assertion that insurers will pass along the costs of “free” services under the law in the form of higher premiums.
“We just don’t get the truth out of you,” he told the secretary.
Republicans also complained about the way enrollees are tabulated, saying people need to pay their initial premiums before they are truly signed up.
HHS said more than a quarter-million people selected private health care plans in November. California led the way, with more than 107,000 enrollees selecting private plans since Oct. 1 on the state-run exchange that serves the most populous state in the nation.