HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Testifies on Hill for Obamacare Hearing

Sebelius offers testimony to Senate Finance Committee on failed rollout of Healthcare.gov site.
31:17 | 11/06/13

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Transcript for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Testifies on Hill for Obamacare Hearing
This is a special group. Hello -- -- anti Hernandez in New York but as ABC news digital special report grilled on the hill again. Secretary of health and human services Kathleen -- is back in front of congress today this time she's facing the Senate Finance Committee over Obama care -- problems. She will likely be asked about hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their health insurance despite promises that everyone could keep their existing insurance and then. There -- these so called war really -- colonel Rodney administration. He's developed in the rolling out the terms of the problems that -- released overnight there's last its use so let's bring in. Devin Dwyer ABC's debit cards before it is all 175 pages of that memo he joins us now -- what -- the memos talent. Hi good morning -- -- that's right he's guarded often the most detailed account yet of the rocky rollout of health care dot -- -- the federal government's new insurance portal that of course launched on October 1 -- 175. Pages released by the house oversight committee this is the Republican shared. Group it's investigating. Just what we're wrong and in these documents were subpoenaed by the committee from the administration. And passed on to us -- pretty interest -- -- to. All right and apple release them and you know what are the ramifications of these. But the house oversight committee released than they really depict. An administration that was suffering from a lot of confusion and chaos really in the days immediately after the launch of this site there was. You get the sense that they didn't really fully appreciate the scope of the problems they were facing there -- some communication issues. And they also really struggled to get their message out there and -- get a handle on how they were an address this. And so these documents -- give us a sense really of what they face now in trying to meet their own new deadline of November 30 which. We'll hear the the secretary really emphasize today they hope to have -- all fixed by the end of this month. Now it appears that pretty early on. As -- said some startling findings about 90% of the applicants who managed to get into the system couldn't pass residency -- These -- big problems and problems that they discovered. Early on in the process yet they continue to say that -- these issues would be resolved quickly. That's right did did did interest in part about these memos is that they sort of broaden the understanding that we can have about just what went wrong so much focus. Has been on the web site itself and the inability of consumers to log in to create those accounts we heard about that -- -- days the administration blaming all of that. Largely on volume this -- did the number of people visiting the sites but. Really of these memos there's no indication -- in the documents that officials. Were concerned about the volume of the sites quite the contrary it looks like they were really struggling to get a handle on the software glitches in it it in the system. As you mentioned it initially returning 90% error rates on people's residency they couldn't. Match up where they're from -- in one case pain. 75%. People trying to access. Create their account and access veterans' benefits coming back as deceased. Obviously they recognize that there were some sort of an -- there but. Really these documents paint a picture of software problems more than anything else and those are problems that the administration is still working to fix even though. In these documents and as they presented publicly at the time it. They suggested that they would be relatively easy fixes. The big question people have now is over enrollment about enrollment and those numbers did the memos tell us anything about. How many people have enrolled so far these are numbers the administration is promising to get to last but do we have any new insight into that. That's right well we're all of course eagerly awaiting. Some sort of a number from the administration about how many people got -- I think it. There's going to be no surprise here when they come out with these estimates by the end of the month that that it's not -- meet their expectations or anyone else's expectations. The documents that we've obtained 175 pages as we -- don't issue. Or or lay out any specific concrete numbers that we do get some new clues about. How things were going along as of October 8 -- about the first -- into the program only 700 people. Were able to -- through the web site. And then there was an emphasis by the administration on paper application seen as something as an alternative while the web site was down they started. About the middle of the month to push encourage everybody to fill up this paper applications the old fashioned way send an -- to get approved. -- looks like they've received about 111000. Of those but. I keep in mind that paper applications have their own problems of course it they required manpower to actually enter them into the system. And all those paper applications they've received -- have a number of errors on then that means these workers these contractors have to try to call applicants by phone reach them. Make those corrections are really a whole new litany of headaches after the administration in just trying to process -- at the end of the day. -- to answer your question and enrollments again far short of their 500000. Enrollment target we're only looking at maybe 50000 at best. -- some pretty and usual problems thrown in the mix there are now there weren't very many of them overall that they might be proved to be embarrassing for the administration -- about those. That's right certainly some oddball situations in these memos one. This -- talk about insurers for second talk about consumers having a hard time getting in -- logging in and picking a plan it turns out. The insurance companies also had some confusion -- -- of Oklahoma. Where an insurer there was was offering a plan they they offered full geriatrics surgery coverage that's a very expensive procedure to help people. With weight loss they thought that it was mandated by obamacare to have to cover this very -- surgery turns out. They don't have to cover it -- it's medically necessary so they called the administration they said hey we want to remove that plan from the marketplace. And they eventually succeeded -- that but it created a whole other problem because people had already signed up for that plan. And so then the administration had to go back canceled the plans Ream also even as all these problems -- trying to help people to sign up to begin with. Are are taking place there's also a whole other host of issues. What other fun one just to point out to you what was an incarceration problem early on about 6% of applicants. Were were coming back to this system as having been incarcerated. -- turns out that it was a problem with the application itself but again. So many false positives and some of these indicators gave gave people processing the applications -- -- -- time and. Now we've learned a lot and heard a lot about problems for consumers but insurance companies. Are also reeling from these big changes as well. That's right and in fact to pick up where we left off with that company and Oklahoma's insurance companies are requested some 200 changes to plans. That they've already put on -- changes in -- -- -- changes in our provisions in this plan that's throwing a wrench into things also. In some states let's talk about you talk for a second the State's largest insurer select health not even appearing. In the marketplace and they were complaining to the administration early on according to these memos that. That there -- states marketplace should be pulled offline for a little while because they didn't even appear there. So plenty -- problems to go around plenty of headaches here in these documents show. Just how much work is still to be done -- -- we'll hear from secretary Sebelius today they are making some progress. At last. At last accounting from the administration that website is much more operational than it was in its early days and -- process roughly about 171000. Applications. Per hour it's able to process that many. We still don't know how many targeting process. And answer -- -- some of these challenges the administration created what's called the tiger team. Who's in -- what are they doing what can you tell us about it. That's right kind of a fun name while we we learned in these documents that the administration immediately formed a crisis response team. When the website was experiencing trouble they call -- the critical incident response team. Including members of the leading divisions of the Obama administration. Organizing the rollout of the health care website. It was nicknamed tiger team that met twice a day in the morning and the afternoon for the first two weeks of of this crisis if you will with the with the rollout of the web site. We've learned it since disbanded they're still in touch with -- each other but this this team was the team that was trying to spearhead some of that immediate crisis response. All right lots -- questions at the head for Kathleen Sebelius. And we have you -- senator Orrin hatch. Ranking members he never been through that elaborate. The deficit of this isn't about to be able to shed some light on -- Let me start with a simple present the prevalence words matter. We have all heard the golden saying honesty is the best policy. Unfortunately this age old wisdom doesn't seem to applied to the obamacare pledges. More and more promises. Made at this time. -- made at the time that slows pastor now crumbling under the weight of reality on a daily basis. Let's start with a famous pledge that health reform would reduce costs by 4500 dollars for the average family. The truth is although the new mandates going to affect the cost of health insurance in this country is projected to rise of remarkable right. Some studies including one from the Manhattan institute. Estimate that individual market premiums will increase by as much as 99% for males. For men. In 62% for women nationwide. Then of course there was president Obama's promised when the law was passed that quote if you like your health care -- you can keep an -- court. And that put if you like your doctor you'll be able to keep your doctor -- book. This to put it bluntly as simply -- truth. And that's why the Washington Post. Gave him four from Tokyo's. In fact a question posed this was on October 30 gave -- -- Pinocchio which represents the highest level of untruthful -- You really have to try to get for -- have to try hard to get -- and Tokyo's. You don't simply get -- for making in this statement. Yet it wasn't until the last few weeks of people in the administration and the White House started trying to rewrite what the president said. Let's be candid. It wasn't a new found on -- straight to change administration's tone. It was the fact that Americans started receiving cancellation notices from there insurers. According to the Associated Press 3.5 million people perceive such notices thus far in the same fate of certain of -- millions more. -- -- Put simply there is a long track record of broken promises and untruthful answers to vote this committee. And the American people with respect this book should work or would work and the impact it would. And I hope that that won't stop today. -- Arcadia it's no more excuses. No more spin just give us the truth. Answers like we don't know and we were wrong -- perfectly acceptable. As long as that is -- true. When thank you again. Mister chairman for holding this hearing as you can see we have a lot to discuss and -- thank you that a secretary for being. Here -- notes not the most pleasant thing you can do. But the fact of the matter is these are real legitimate questions that really have to be answered by you and others who were in charge of these. These programs and I haven't even gone -- I expect you're going to be able. To get this. The -- problem solved information technology problems solved. That that doesn't even begin to answer the questions about. -- small businesses won't there are now employing people for thirty yards from us or why they won't employ more than 49 people. It is a -- triggered -- huge huge expense under this I think very. Four build it was a -- to begin with thank you mr. chairman. -- -- -- -- Editors are witnesses. Secretary Sebelius thank you very much -- secretary for her today appreciate it time explain it. -- -- Obviously your statement included in the record -- you know you know the drill. I can speak summarize for about 56 minutes take as long as you walked criticism for important matter so. Tell us which one. -- -- Thank you chairman baucus and ranking member -- members of the committee I do appreciate the opportunity to update that committee. On the final implementation phase of the Affordable Care Act. The law which passed both houses of congress was signed by the president and upheld by the Supreme Court. Gives millions of Americans an opportunity to obtain affordable health coverage. This is the first opportunity for many Americans to get covered. Including people living in pain with chronic illnesses young adults whose employers don't offer insurance. And parents struggling to keep up with mounting bills. In the last five weeks. Access to health -- dot gov has been a miserably frustrating experience for far too many of these Americans. It's unacceptable. I am focused on fixing it and I'm accountable. -- recognizes. That there's an even higher level of accountability. Accountability to the sick the vulnerable the struggling Americans who deserve better health care. The impact on the lives of everyday people -- getting lost I know this because I hear their stories. As I'm sure many of you do. We do have a team of experts working on an aggressive schedule so that the consumer experience on the web gets better every day. And as the chairman has sent by the end of November. -- committed to having -- site working smoothly for the vast majority of users. While we don't have the fully functioning system yet that consumers need and deserve. We do have a plan in place identify prioritize and manage the remaining fixes across -- system. We have reinforced our team with dozens of key personnel from both government and the private sector. Including respected expert engineers technology managers and software developers designers an analyst from companies like Oracle and Red Hat. They -- helping diagnose problems making quick decisions with developers and vendors to analyze trouble -- prioritize and resolve issues in real time. As this work continues. We know that Americans are shopping for plans signing up in a rolling on line. On paper on the phone and in person. In fact more than two million people have already called -- to call center with the average wait times of less than thirty seconds. But I want to share with the committee few indications of our progress what we've improved and what we intend to fix. The problems that remain. Our two major areas of focus our performance which deals with speed and reliability. And functionality. Fixing the bugs and other problems in the system. In the first few weeks after health -- dot gov launched users had to wait an average of eight seconds for pages to load. Today it typically takes less than a second. A month ago viewing and filtering health plans took minutes today it takes seconds. Many consumers. -- to see a blank screen at the end of their application process. Today they see whether they're eligible for financial assistance which is the next step in the process. Users are receiving far fewer air -- messages and timeouts. And we're now able to process nearly 171000 -- cents per hour with almost no -- We've made him more than a dozen additional fixes this weekend correcting information provided to insurers that allow applications to be processed. And consumers to complete their payments. Improving the save and continue function. An upgrading hardware so the system can handle. More users with greater stability. Last night we installed more upgrades focusing on direct enrollment in improving the consumer experience and those upgrades will continue on an aggressive schedule between now and the end of November. We are making progress but there's still a lot of work to do. Now some have best. Why not just delay implementation. Of the new -- until all of the problems are fixed. And there's a pretty straightforward answer. Delaying the Affordable Care Act wouldn't delay people's cancer or diabetes or parkinson's. Didn't delay the need for mental health services or cholesterol screenings or prenatal care. Delaying the Affordable Care Act doesn't delay the foreclosure notices. For families forced into bankruptcy by and -- medical bills. It doesn't delay the higher costs all of -- pay one uninsured Americans are left with no choice but to rely on emergency rooms for care. So for millions of Americans delay is not an option. People's lives depend on us too many hardworking people have been waiting for too long for the ability to obtain affordable health insurance. We want to save families from going bankrupt if we want to save the lives of more of our friends and neighbors by allowing them to detect medical issues early. -- we want to keep prices down delay is not an option. We are still at the beginning of a six month open enrollment which ends. At the end of march and there's -- of time to sign up for the new plants. And I want to put this into perspective mr. chairman that average private insurance open enrollment is about two weeks in a work site. Many public plans allow for four weeks of open -- -- and Medicare. The yearly open enrollment which is underway right now is six weeks along. The new marketplace was specifically designed. For along open enrollment -- -- -- six week period. And those who enroll by December 15 will be able to access their benefits on day one. I am accountable. To this committee and to the American public for getting the fixes in place. And we are committed to getting health care dot -- fix some millions of Americans can finally obtain the health and financial security they've been waiting for. Thank you mr. chairman and I'd be happy to answer questions. I UN secretary and dressed her principal questioned -- -- -- namely. Many people think that their sites be shut down until -- fixed. And asked that question why just keep limping along. Why not just shut it down. And goal of him and put it together the -- it should be put together. Many -- outfit. You're. One off fixes tend to have. Unintended consequences down the road -- is -- some other part of the system. And so and then -- into the whole system after all the fixes have been made. And people ask why hasn't that happened -- -- also that. Every day it was a story -- didn't get on get a blank page or there's -- security probe that's that's that's that's. That's -- bad media campaign. It's it's negative it hurts as the help that is why not just have one bad story or shut down. And and fix at all. And everything's working and beginning however long it takes several weeks of the month with a host. And then we'll look back on at that date we -- -- its broken well. Review indicate that could delay its health care for a lot of people and that's that's it and I appreciate that it's you one more time why not just get it. Done right. I've got -- -- had a series of rules in my office on Google rules. But one of -- do it now. The sector rose to a right the first time. Why not shut down. And -- right. Mr. chairman I'm relying on the advice of not only them. Inside team and contractors. A lot of the outside experts who have coming in to take a look at the system and they did a number of things along the way they. Did a series of diagnostics. Looked at the entire system. And determined. At the outset that health -- -- -- this fixable. That it does and fatally flawed which was. Initial report out of many people. Secondly we have asked that question a number of times -- just be helpful to take the whole system down and make. Fixes along the way we've been advised that that actually doesn't help that it. Is better to do routine upgrade some of which are hot patches which can be done -- the system is fully running. Others are better to be done. In -- maintenance period between 1 AM and 5 AM when the user experiences pretty low and we actually take the system down for periods of time. But given the fact that the various. Fixes. Particularly the functionality fixes the codes have to be written in batches. It's been. Advise that you don't gain much from just taking the whole system down for. A week a couple of weeks it's better to do this on an ongoing basis and jobs. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- And heard a punch. Them out one by one. How many of them. Items -- -- that punch list in which have them. Have been punched out when to expect -- punched out when to expect to do the Indian tested after each -- punched out. While Jeff has come in. To help managed. Operations between the contractors in this EMS team and aggressive fixed schedule he'll be with us. Hopefully. Through this process and he has been enormously helpful in. Being aim management. Lieutenant with Maryland tab the CMS administrator. I would say -- a couple of hundred. Functional. Fixes that have been unidentified. And they are in priority group thing the first. Series of them have been under way. We're making -- it it depends on the night it's it's hard to give you a moment by moment snapshot there were. A number that. We're done last night hardware. Additional -- installations were done over the weekend. At. 5 o'clock or 6 o'clock each day it's really identified whether or not the testing for the individual. Coating fixed can be actually applied that night so the list changes but we will get you mr. chairman. An update and I would say we are into the list were not where we need to be. It's a pretty aggressive schedule. To get to. The entire punch -- right here. You have never a good dude -- and have to go throw up couple hundred. What act items on the punch list. Because the site is running. It is and and daily people are coming into the system and going all the way through the system every day and that helps identify some of what work. Seeing so we are actually doing. With live time and ending and testing that then can go back and informed tech team. What else needs to happen. Hero -- give myself I want this to work that went good akin to help you make it work. But that means you also have to have two way street you -- tell us what's going on candidly falling enrollment. So we don't. Wake up in the November. Mobile hold. Still nothing. -- -- Thank you mr. chairman secretary Sebelius as you know. For months have expressed concerns about the privacy and security controls being implemented those part of this federally facilitates. Facilitate -- marketplace. We know and -- key officials in the administration. That there were privacy and security risks as well as serious operational issues. That might occur -- the exchanges went live. On October 1. Yet -- decision was still may not to delay the launch until those issues were fully address. Many people including myself have called for an independent -- Such as the government accounting office. For example to conduct an and then review of the marketplace to ensure adequate privacy and security controls. We're in place before -- -- So I have a number of questions about why you made the decision to go forward even when you -- There were serious security risks and operational issues that would likely -- The number one when did you find out about the potential security risks to users of the website. Sir. I would say that the August preliminary report from an independent -- regular. Miter. Identified that there were. -- GAO had identified. That their risked their wrists with every system that that goes live and we took those -- very seriously. And so by August you know. Who brief you on a potential security risks of the launch went forward as planned. Again senator -- anybody breakthrough on the security -- We discuss security as part of the overall operations on a regular basis with the operations team but no one. I would say suggested that. The risks outweighed did the importance of moving forward including our independent evaluate or miter who made. Recommendations to see MS as is required. -- -- and suggesting that since April. He stated that you felt strongly that the launch needed to proceed on October 1 from the millions of Americans. Who do not have health insurance so they can get coverage -- possible. However how did you balance that made with the risk that those same Americans might then fall victim to identity theft. Or have their personal information compromised -- sufficient privacy and security controls. Patented. Its coverage of balance. Well I share -- Concerns about individual privacy and I would say that this site was. Develops with the highest standards in mind is is not. Certified. Which is the federal standard it meets -- this standards. And we took -- seriously. The information in the hub was specifically designed so that the federal government wasn't storing privacy information and actually access. Some other secure government web sites but we tried to store the minimum possible information. We don't collect any personal health information which is typically done by Richard immigrants -- company -- -- that we don't have that at all. He does collect Social Security numbers shoes and we don't -- we collected operational let them say. The hub is eight -- brouder function. That actually identified as a Social Security number verifies that with the Social Security Administration but that information is not. Captain stored but don't they have to give their room. There Meehan can there and that is verified data IRS it's -- Homeland Security verify the thoughts on the -- of excellence. But so -- these does that an outage in -- The Homeland Security database it's -- IRS data -- and it's -- such -- security database it is not. Storing unique information. What -- the tradeoffs. We're watching the exchange. On October 1 rather than waiting until a later date. Because other pieces of -- marketplace have been delayed -- -- the launched the marketplace with insufficient privacy. And security controls. Again senator I I would say that -- standards that have been set out for. Security controls were met. You mentioned to end to end testing and there were features of the system that we're loaded. Very close to launch date. And that is why I think. Administrator. Shows to authorize a temporary. Authorization to operate and not a permanent because you can't. Permanently author is an authorization until you have the entire system we knew we had features in the system. Which we had chosen not to. Apply from the outset the would you tell the -- feature the and Spanish website again those need to be tested before. The system can be fully opera's. Community could you tell the committee how many people signed up for health care under. The current system. Senator we will have enrollment numbers out next week. We are still working. On particularly the 830 fours which is the enrollment peace with insurers and we want to make sure we give you valid accurate numbers. -- -- -- Thank senators are white thank you out mister chairman madam secretary at community meetings at home. Or guardians Tom needed to air it in -- the Senate Finance Committee hearing on obamacare -- calculus Canadians are counting watching alias testify. Help -- suggestion from one ranking member of that she continued to meet your grilled by the committee once every six monthly. As the obamacare -- -- few continues. -- -- streaming live right here on abcnews.com. If you -- to keep watching but for now I'm tired Hernandez and --

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