Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius made more than a dozen trips to the White House before the rocky rollout of the Obamacare exchanges in October, hundreds of documents obtained by The Hill
Despite her assertions that President Barack Obama was unaware of the litany of problems, Sebelius met with or took part in calls and events with the president at least 18 times between Oct. 27, 2012 and Oct. 6, 2013, and in at least seven of those instances they were scheduled to discuss Obamacare.
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Sebelius also met or had calls with Pete Rouse and Valerie Jarrett, two of Obama's closest advisers; White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; and Chris Jennings, then a White House senior healthcare adviser during that period, the records show.
In response to the documents, HHS said in a statement that Sebelius "is frequently at the White House for meetings on a wide range of topics, including the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. As we have also said, the Affordable Care Act is more than just a website, and consistent with other significant policy initiatives, there was coordination across the Administration on a broad range of policy and implementation topics."
But her frequent visits in the months leading up to the disastrous website rollout raise questions about what the president knew or did not know.
In a Nov. 14 press conference, according to The Hill, Obama said, "I was not informed directly that the website would not be working the way it was supposed to. Had I been informed, I wouldn't be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great."
The documents also show that Sebelius met with influential journalists, including former Washington Post reporter Ezra Klein and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, to discuss Obamacare.
Less than a month after her April 23 meeting with Friedman, the Times ran a column by him about how the number of startups dedicated to information on Obamacare showed that it "already appears to be surprising on the upside."
After the botched rollout, Sebelius faced a Congressional panel to explain what went wrong. She noted no one had warned her of potential problems, not staff or contractors involved.
"Did any senior department official predict serious problems? And did any senior department officials advise delaying the rollout of the exchanges or parts of the exchanges on Oct. 1?" Florida GOP Rep. Gus Bilirakis asked Sebelius
on Oct. 30 before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
"I can tell you that no senior official reporting to me ever advised me that we should delay," she answered.
Sebelius has maintained that Obama was made aware of problems
with the site only days after its launch.
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, has repeatedly asked for Sebelius
to answer for the problems with Obamacare rollout. He has threatened she faces criminal penalties if her previous testimony before Congress was misleading.
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