Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has become the public face of the problem-plagued Obamacare website, which broke down just as millions of Americans sought information about the health care law for the first time.
But another major administration figure, Marilyn Tavenner, the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, will also get plenty of scrutiny from Republicans in coming days.
Though Sebelius is the easiest and highest-profile target, Tavenner will face an onslaught of questions about technical problems that continue to go unanswered on the website which enrolls consumers in Obamacare's new insurance exchanges. Tavenner's agency is responsible for the oversight of health entitlements and most of the key provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
Tavenner will testify before the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, before Sebelius answers questions from the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday.
The administration has been reluctant to disclose details about the scope of the website’s problems, how long it will take to fix the issues and the individuals doing the repair work.
Tavenner, a former Virginia health secretary, was confirmed by the Senate 91-7 in May; she even received an endorsement from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. Tavenner was the first confirmed nominee for the post in more than six years.
Any goodwill from Republicans, though, has evaporated amid the botched launch of Obamacare’s open enrollment period.
“A lot of people, especially outside Washington, probably aren’t familiar with Tavenner,” a senior GOP House aide told the Washington Examiner. “I can promise you a lot more people will soon know the name.”
Tavenner certainly faced a daunting task upon taking over the senior post: Getting the insurance marketplaces up and running and facilitating the expansion of Medicaid in two dozen states.
The federal government has already spent $400 million on the flawed website — a price tag that will increase as the administration works to correct a litany of technical glitches.
Sebelius on Tuesday outlined the administration's “tech surge” to repair the exchange website, announcing that former Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients would lead the review.
The White House has refused to speculate about potential pink slips for those involved with implementing Obamacare, even as Democrats express growing concerns about the rocky start for the president’s signature domestic achievement.
Some, however, wonder whether Tavenner could take the fall if the technological issues persist.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the administration turns her into a scapegoat,” said the Republican House aide. “She’s not as big of a name as Sebelius. But obviously, this isn’t going away anytime soon, and such a move wouldn’t be nearly enough to satisfy us.”