Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday said she was “taking steps” to review the “flawed launch of healthcare.gov,” including asking her department’s inspector general to conduct a thorough probe.
“The launch of HealthCare.gov was flawed and simply unacceptable,” said Sebelius in a blog posted on the HHS website.
“I believe strongly in the need for accountability, and in the importance of being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” she continued. “I am announcing a series of initial steps in the process of better understanding the structural and managerial policies that led to the flawed launch of HealthCare.gov.
“I have asked our Inspector General, Dan Levinson, to review the development of HealthCare.gov. We need a thorough review of the contractor performance and program management structure that resulted in the flawed launch of the website,” announced the secretary. “I am asking the Inspector General to review the acquisition process, overall program management, and contractor performance and payment issues related to the development and management of the HealthCare.gov website.”
Sebelius vowed that she would “take action to address the Inspector General’s findings.”
She also said she would tap Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner to create and fill a new post for a “CMS chief risk officer.”
Sebelius said the risk officer’s first task would be to review and report in 60 days on the agency’s information technology contracting, “starting with identifying the risk factors that impeded the successful launch of the HealthCare.gov website.”
The third step announced by Sebelius involves retraining CMS employees on “best practices” for hiring and managing contractors.
The steps come as Sebelius prepares to head back to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to testify before a House Committee on Energy and Commerce subcommittee.
Republicans say Sebelius has left a number of questions from her Oct. 30 appearance before the full committee unanswered. They plan to grill her on a host of problems that have cropped up over the last month, including hundreds of thousands of cancellations of individual plans, limited provider networks and rising premium costs.
House Speaker John Boehner's office, as well as the Energy and Commerce Committee, has circulated separate lists of questions for Sebelius to answer at the hearing and are encouraging Twitter users to use the hashtag #AskSebelius to pose questions directly to her.
Committee members plan to press Sebelius on how much the administration has spent on fixing healthcare.gov, whether insurance companies recommended a delay of the launch of open enrollment, exactly how many people have enrolled in a plan on healthcare.gov, whether the administration has conducted end-to-end security testing on healthcare.gov and whether Sebelius plans to enroll in the exchange.
Boehner's office says it wants to know whether Sebelius still considers the costs of the plans offered on the federal exchanges as affordable, considering the rising costs of both premiums and deductibles. They are also focused on whether the administration will delay some complicated rules that are causing cost and compliance issues for small businesses and whether the administration will keep its promise to seniors in the Medicare Advantage program and those enrolling in the healthcare exchanges that they can keep the doctors they like.
On Thursday the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee plans to hear from three doctors about the impact the law is having on their patients and practices after reports that some doctors are finding the law so burdensome that they are closing their private practices.
The disastrous rollout of the health care's insurance marketplaces has damaged President Obama in the polls and undercut support for his signature domestic achievement. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Wednesday showed that 50 percent viewed the health law as a bad idea.
It is unlikely though that Sebelius’s steps will assuage congressional anger over the botched healthcare.gov website. Congressional Republicans are pushing ahead with their probes and even many Democrats, worried about the fallout ahead of the 2014 midterms, have called on Obama to fire those officials responsible.
The White House, though, has said that Obama is focused on making the health law work for all Americans and is launching a drive to boost enrollment in the insurance exchanges.
The administration says they have fixed the website so that most users enjoy a smooth experience.
“While there is still more work to do, HealthCare.Gov is working faster, it’s responding quicker, and we are able to handle larger volumes of concurrent users,” said Sebelius.