GOP Girds Loins for Testy Obamacare Hearings

Saturday, 19 Oct 2013 09:01 PM

By Todd Beamon

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Capitol Hill Republicans are gearing up for hearings next week on the botched rollout of Obamacare — and the White House said on Saturday that about 476,000 health insurance applications have been filed through the new exchanges.

The figure is the most detailed yet from the Obama administration since the exchanged opened on Oct. 1 during the partial federal government shutdown.

Still, the officials refused to tell The Associated Press on Saturday how many people had actually enrolled in the insurance markets.

Without enrollment figures, it's unclear whether Obamacare is on track to reach the 7 million people projected by the Congressional Budget Office to gain coverage during the six-month sign-up period.

The officials did not want to be cited by name and would not discuss the health insurance rollout unless they were granted anonymity, the AP reported.

Since going online on Oct. 1, the main Obamcare exchange, Healthcare.gov, has been marred by technical glitches and cost overruns — leading technology specialists to conclude that the company hired to build the site, CGI, was not qualified for the job.

On its first weekend, the website — covering 36 states that do not operate their own exchanges — was shut down for repairs.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has since, however, declared
that Healthcare.gov is "simple and user-friendly, and the coverage is affordable."

The site so far has cost American taxpayers more than $630.4 million, nearly seven times its original estimate of $93 million.

And Healthcare.gov is even frustrating those whom President Barack Obama has said the success of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act depends on: young, technology-astute millenials.

"You see this situation especially with college students," Michael Cipriano, a student at American University in Washington told FoxNews  on Friday. "They get frustrated, which creates a disincentive to sign up."

Obama has contended that the premiums for the healthiest Americans would help pay for insurance for seniors, poor people, and others with long-term illnesses — as well as those who go to hospital emergency rooms more often.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, in Saturday's weekly Republican address, lambasted Obamacare as an "unconstitutional" law that was "fundamentally broken even before it started."

"Obamacare represents one of the largest and most reckless expansions of government in the more than 200-year history of our nation," said Cuccinelli, who is in an acrimonious gubernatorial race against Democrat Terry McAuliffe. "I believe that Obamacare is unconstitutional. I believe it’s an affront to the freedoms and liberties our founding fathers fought to establish on our behalf."

For her part, Sebelius has refused to testify at hearings scheduled for Thursday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"We are in close communication with the committee and have expressed our desire to be responsive to their request," department spokeswoman Joanne Peters told CNN on Friday.
Rep. Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican who chairs the House panel, blasted Sebelius for "rejecting" the committee's invitation.

"Secretary Sebelius had time for Jon Stewart, and we expect her to have time for Congress," he told CNN. Upton was referencing her Oct. 7 appearance on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas has already called for Sebelius' resignation for showing "gross incompetence" in Obamacare's “disastrous” rollout.

"She has to answer some questions for us," Rep. Tim Murphy told CNN on Friday. "We think this is extremely important."

The Pennsylvania Republican chairs a subcommittee of the panel that is sponsoring Thursday's Obamacare hearings.

"It's just not ready," Murphy said of Healthcare.gov. "It's an obvious fact that it's just not ready."

This was despite claims, he said, by the Obama administration that development was moving along smoothly.

"Every time I've had somebody before my subcommittee, they would say, 'Don't worry, everything is fine,'" Murphy told CNN.

"They're not ready — and they have not been upfront with us about these things," he added. "Either they don't know or they're not willfully telling us."

Sebelius' decision led The Wall Street Journal  to charge on Friday that Sebelius "can't hide forever.

"Even pro-entitlement liberals want to know about what went wrong and why, how much if any progress is being made, and whether the Obamacare website Healthcare.gov will be usable in a matter of months — or years'" the paper said in an editorial.

"The department is also refusing to make available lower-level officials who might detail the source or sources of this debacle," the Journal added. "Ducking an investigation with spin is one thing. Responding with a wall of silence to the invitation of a duly elected congressional body probing the use of more than half a billion taxpayer dollars is another.

"This Obama crowd is something else."

California Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, recently demanded information from Sebelius about the problems with the rollout.

“From day one… Healthcare.gov has been plagued by what administration officials initially referred to as technical glitches,” Issa's letter states. "After six days, the administration finally admitted the glitches were 'design and software problems that have kept customers from applying online for coverage."

The Oct. 10 letter was also signed by Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the ranking GOP member of the Senate Health Committee.

But regardless of who — if anyone — appears before the House panel on Thursday, Murphy said committee members will find out who was ultimately responsible for this part of the Obamacare debacle.

"Clearly, somebody has to know some things," he told CNN. "There's been a lot of finger-pointing, without some of those fingers going directly to someone who made decisions.

"What I see here is a whole pattern of them repeatedly telling us that things were fine on multiple levels when they just weren't ready across the board."

Related Articles:

Lew: Obama Frustrated With Health Website Foul-Up

Cuccinelli in GOP Address: Obamacare Broken Before It Started

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