Obamacare: Sebelius Testimony Armed With Numbers

kathleen sebelius

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Armed with new enrollment data, Health and Human Services (or, HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made her way to Capitol Hill to testify Wednesday. In November, 258,497 people selected a plan in the federally run marketplace; combined with October’s figures, the total so far is 364,682. On the Hill, Sebelius appeared before the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

The reports covers data from October and November. The decision to use cumulative data was made “because some people apply, shop, and select a plan across monthly reporting periods.” This way, the best “snapshot” of the marketplace will be provided. The “snapshot” of the marketplace only includes enrollment figures, but not demographic information of who has been enrolled.

HHS has determined that there are 2,307,283 people who are eligible for a plan in the federal marketplace. Of those eligible, only 15.8 percent have enrolled in a plan. State-based marketplaces fared slightly better; 781,875 are eligible, and 227,478 (or 29.1 percent) have chosen a plan. So far, over 39 million people have visited Healthcare.gov.

At the hearing, Congressman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) asked Sebelius to define enrollment, as it relates to coverage, calling it the “most critical statistic.” Sebelius responded that it is the number of individuals who have chosen a plan. Payment is not due until mid-December, and HHS will not be able to report on coverage until after payments have been processed.

“Some may have paid, some may not, we’re giving you the enrollment numbers,” Sebelius said. When asked by Pitts about 5 million people losing their coverage, Sebelius said she was unfamiliar with the data he was citing, and the plans are changed and dropped all the time. She did not verify the number. Pitts cited an asked about a memo that was leaked, saying the enrollment target through the end of December was 3.3 million. Sebelius agreed that as of the end of November, the department was approximately 3 million enrollees away from that goal.

Congressman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) noted that the pace of user-ship, and enrollment on HealthCare.gov is increasing exponentially. Sebelius agreed that incredible progress had been made, but “the flawed launch of the website put a damper on early enrollment.”

Pallone also argued that President Obama had not broken a promise when he said if you like your plan, you can keep it, and it was a waste of time to focus on such issues. The President’s statement was clearly not meant to protect “lousy” plans, Pallone said. Congress member Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked about the cost of Healthcare.gov. Sebelius stated that through the end of October 2014, $677 million has been budgeted for IT. So far, $319 million has been spent.

In a blog post Wednesday, Sebelius announced “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.” This will include an investigation of contractors. In 2013, Sebelius said, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid spent $5.3 billion on contracting engagements.

As a part of the attempts to understand what when wrong with the launch, Sebelius said the Inspector General, Dan Levinson, will conduct a review. She reiterated this to Blackburn, and said she plans to act based on the recommendations that follow.

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