Sebelius’s Obamacare Testimony: Hundreds of Glitches and Fixes

kathleen sebelius


Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius returned to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee to discuss the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. This was her second appearance on the Hill since the botched website debuted on October 1.

Sebelius’s submitted testimony for the hearing cited progress on fixing the site since Jeff Zients took the helm. This includes a number of “enhanced monitoring tools” that the department is using to “get a high level picture of the marketplace application and enrollment system,” and enables officials to “see how quickly pages are responding, and to measure how changes improve user experience on the site.”

Sebelius said the website is now able to process approximately “17,000 registrants per hour” with virtually no errors. “We also added capacity by doubling the number of servers and have replaced the virtual database with a high-capacity physical one,” the statement said.

More news about the website emerged in the actual hearing. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Right away, he made his allegiance to the Affordable Care Act known. ”I believe in this law. I spent two years of my life working on the Affordable Care Act. There is nothing I want more than for it to succeed,” Baucus said.

He added that when he previously asked for updates on the website, the answers received ”were totally unsatisfactory.” The senator reiterated a warning that if clarity was not given, and if the technical issues did not subside, the law would suffer even more damage.

Baucus returned to the issues surrounding the website later in the hearing. He asked Sebelius why the department was letting the website “just keep limping along,” doing “one-off fixes” that may have unintended consequences further along. “It’s negative. It hurts. It doesn’t help you. So why not just have one bad story, you’re shut down, and fix it all and everything’s working,” Baucus said.

Sebelius replied saying that she was “relying on the advice of not only the inside team and contractors but a lot of the outside experts who have come in to take a look at the system.” This combined team has told her that the website is not “fatally flawed.” Those working on the problems have also informed her that the kind of work they need to do to fix the website, such as writing code, is best done “in batches,” so taking the entire site down is not that beneficial.

Baucus then wished to know how many fixes had been identified. He referenced an earlier statement by Zients, where Zients mentioned having a “punch list” and how he planned to go through it, ticking each item off when it was fixed. Zients made this comment on a conference call with reporters, according to Business Insider. During the call, he said the list included “dozens of items.” Baucus wondered what the state of the punch list was.

“I would say there are a couple of hundred functional fixes that have been identified. And they are in priority grouping. The first series of them have been underway,” Sebelius said. She conceded the fixes were ”not where we need to be,” and called the November deadline for results is “a pretty aggressive schedule.”

The hearing also touched on issues of security, enrollment figures, and other aspects surrounding the law. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) asked how many people had signed up for health care using the system, but Sebelius refused to give a hard number, saying that data would likely be available next week.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) wanted an apology and answers for broken promises, specifically for Americans being kicked off previously held health care plans. ”I would much rather you just come up and say, yeah, we were wrong; yeah, we didn’t tell the truth,” Thune said to Sebelius. He also called it a”a dishonest mistake,” adding, “this is a dishonesty. I mean, you’ve been misleading the American people, and the president has, over and over and over again.”

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