Sebelius: ‘Hold Me Accountable for the Debacle’ (Updated)

Sebelius prepares to testify before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the failures of Affordable Care Act's enrollment website. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sebelius prepares to testify before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the failures of Affordable Care Act's enrollment website. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted October 30, 2013 at 10:08am

Updated 1:29 p.m. | Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is taking the blame for the “debacle” rollout of — but promising to fix it soon.

During a testy exchange before the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., asked the secretary who was responsible “for this debacle.”

First, Sebelius tried to pin the blame on external contractors, but Blackburn wanted a name from the administration.

Eventually, Sebelius and Blackburn arrived at Michelle Snyder, the chief operating officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“Michelle Snyder is the one responsible for this debacle,” said Blackburn, as Democrats on the panel moaned to seemingly indicate a low blow.

But Sebelius was not about to let Snyder take the blame.

“Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible,” Sebelius said.

“I am as frustrated and angry as anyone with the flawed launch of HealthCare.Gov,” Sebelius testified earlier. “You deserve better. I apologize. I’m accountable to you to fixing this problem, and I’m committed to earn your confidence back by fixing the site.”

Republicans, meanwhile, asked many of the questions you would expect — why don’t you have enrollment data? Why didn’t you have adequate testing? Is the data secure? How much will this all cost?

Sebelius said she didn’t have enrollment data, saying she wanted to provide “reliable” numbers that just aren’t available at this time because of the website woes. She did concede that they are likely to be very low because of the website’s problems, and said they would have numbers in mid-November.

That did little to quell GOP concerns.

Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., pressed Sebelius for numbers, asking her if she would provide any sort of enrollment data.

“No,” Sebelius said. “We do not have any reliable data on enrollment.”

Another concern raised by Republicans was the security of the site, as government teams add new lines of code every day.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., went after Sebelius for pushing out a site that may not have undergone an “end to end” security test and for pushing out new code that he said might not have been tested at all.

He asked Sebelius if each piece of code has been tested, and as she danced around the answer, Rogers advised her that it’d be “safer” to answer that she doesn’t know.

“I don’t know,” Sebelius concluded.

Rogers, the House Intelligence Chairman, wasn’t satisfied.

“If it’s not functioning, you know it’s not secure,” he said.

Sebelius separately, however, said she could assure Americans that their data were secure.

As for the cost of the website and the fixes, Sebelius came armed with a few figures. She said HHS has spent about $118 million on the website itself and about $56 million on other IT so far.

Sebelius also said prime contractor CGI has a deal through March 2014 for $197 million.

Overall, the tone of the more-than-three-hour hearing was testy. Republicans relentlessly went after Sebelius for the glitch-ridden rollout as well as the people losing individual insurance plans, while Democrats asked questions that largely defended Obamacare. Several, including ranking member Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., dismissed the website woes as something that will be fixed and soon forgotten.

But for now, at least, there’s no getting around that it doesn’t work properly more than three and a half years after Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law.

“No one indicated that it could possibly go this wrong,” Sebelius said, who noted that she told the president the website was ready to go.

“Clearly, I was wrong. We were wrong,” Sebelius said.