Over the past several months, plenty of warnings suggested that Obamacare’s online insurance exchanges were not ready for primetime. Republicans in Congress repeatedly sought information and testimony about the Obama administration’s preparedness to implement the exchanges but were consistently stonewalled.
House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), who recently called on Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Kathleen Sebelius to resign, has been trying to get her to testify before the committee since August. HHS indicated that Sebelius was unable to testify on the requested date, September 11, and on three alternative dates suggested by the committee, but never sent an official response.
Ryan followed up on his initial request in an August 22 letter seeking additional information about how the administration planned to implement the federal-exchange subsidies (at an estimated cost of more than $1 trillion over the next ten years). “Given the significant financial liability these exchange subsidies represent, Congress has repeatedly asked for additional information about the administration’s efforts to prepare for implementation,” Ryan wrote. “Unfortunately, no satisfactory answers have been forthcoming.”
The committee requested a detailed organization chart of the various HHS offices involved in the implementation of the exchanges, as well as a breakdown of salaries, expenses, and other applicable costs. “The American people have a right to know how the department is spending their tax dollars,” Ryan wrote.
He also sent requests for testimony in August to officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Department of Labor, and the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight. The officials couldn’t find the time in their schedules.
Ryan wrote Sebelius again on Tuesday, noting that her continued refusal to testify or even respond to the committee’s request “raises serious question about the administration’s commitment to transparency and accountability.” He is seeking further information about the recently announced “tech surge” intended to fix the myriad glitches in the Obamacare website and specifically wants “an accounting of the costs of this technical support, including the number of people hired, their compensation, and the aggregate cost of their repairs.”
“We were told we had to pass the health-care bill to find out what was in it,” Ryan said in a statement on Wednesday. “But it’s been three years, and we’re still in the dark.”
Despite promises of increased transparency following the website’s embarrassing failures, the Obama administration still refuses to answer key questions. During a much anticipated CMS press briefing on Thursday, officials would not say who, apart from former Obama-administration official Jeffrey Zients, was involved in the so-called surge. Ezra Klein, usually a staunch Obama supporter, has wondered if the “extraordinarily secretive” effort is even real.
Other House committees have had similar experiences. Oversight chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) has taken to asking prominent tech companies directly whether they are involved in the administration’s purported new efforts. “Despite the President’s assertion that ‘we’re well into a “tech surge”’ neither the White House nor HHS is providing additional details about which private sector companies have been engaged or whether they are being engaged through the appropriate procurement processes,” Issa wrote in a letter to tech firms Google, Microsoft, Verizon Enterprise Solutions, Oracle, and Expedia.
Energy and Commerce chairman Fred Upton (R., Mich.) was finally able to get Sebelius to agree to testify at a hearing on October 31, after the secretary bailed on a hearing scheduled for this past Thursday. An exasperated Upton said this was “wholly unacceptable,” noting that Sebelius had managed to find time in her schedule to appear on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart earlier this month.
Given the grilling she received from Stewart, typically a reliable defender of the administration, Sebelius can’t be looking forward to finally showing her face on Capitol Hill.
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.