HealthCare.gov Glitches: Congress Is Demanding Answers

By: CBS News Email
By: CBS News Email
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CBS News Web Copy
By Rebecca Kaplan

Republicans are set to continue hammering the administration over the failures of the HealthCare.gov website this week, with plans to question several administration officials about the site's rocky rollout and continue demanding information about why it happened.

Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, will go before the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday, followed by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee the following day. Last week, four contractors who worked on the site testified before the committee as well.

The same day that Sebelius is set to speak before Congress, President Obama will travel to Boston to hold an event on the health care law, a White House official confirmed to CBS News. He is set to speak at Fanueil Hall, the spot where former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., his opponent in the 2012 election, signed Massachusetts' health care reform into law.

Sebelius' planned Wednesday appearance has done little to satisfy the Republican appetite for information. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee are threatening to issue subpoenas for information they requested Sebelius and HHS if they don't get a response by 5 p.m. Monday.

They information they are seeking, detailed in an Oct. 10 letter, includes questions about the number of people who were able to enroll in insurance through the federal exchange and how many tried, a full documentation of the efforts to test the site, and how much it will fix to cost the problems, among other things.

"We're looking for quick answers so that we can on behalf of the American people straighten out as much as can be straightened out that's above the water -- which is the website -- and the 90 percent that's below the water like an iceberg that are the other problems in Obamacare," said Issa on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday.

Issa also said that Sebelius should lose her job if she can't put together the team necessary to fully fix the site.

"The president has been poorly served in the implementation of his own signature legislation. So, if somebody doesn't leave, and if there isn't a real restructuring -- not just a 60-day, somebody come in and try to fix it -- then he's missing the point of Management 101, which is these people are to serve him well, and they haven't," Issa said. "If she cannot reorganize to get the kind of a team in consistently to meet his agenda, then she shouldn't be there."

The flaws have put Democrats in a difficult spot, forced to acknowledge the extensive problems while trying not to overtly criticize members of the administration. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., for example, called the rollout a "disaster" on "Face the Nation" but also said it's too early to assign blame.

"Right now everybody's goal should be, let's get this working. Let's make sure that people can get the health care they want and need," she said when asked whether she had lost confidence in Sebelius.

Shaheen has proposed an extension of the enrollment period, currently set to end on March 31, in order to accommodate those who have had trouble using the website. She has 10 Democratic supporters.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., did say on ABC's "This Week" he thought Sebelius should stay - but he has also criticized the problems with HealthCare.gov and called for a one-year delay of the IRS penalty for people who do not purchase insurance.

Many Republicans, for their part, are not holding back. Thirty-three have signed a letter to President Obama calling for Sebelius' resignation. "By calling for the resignation of Secretary Sebelius, you can send a powerful signal that the American people will not be held responsible for her department's failures," the letter said.

During a trip to Phoenix last week, Sebelius said, "The majority of people calling for me to resign I would say are people who I don't work for and do not want this program to work in the first place."

The Republican lines of inquiry also stand to widen this week as users and reporters uncover more problems with the site. On CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday, House Homeland Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said the website does not "not have an overarching solid cyber security plan to prevent the loss of private information."

"The way the system is designed, it is not secure," he said.

The administration announced Tuesday that Jeff Zients, one of President Obama's economic advisers and a former management consultant and CEO, would lead the "tech surge" to fix the website. On Friday, he said the "vast majority of users" should be able to access HealthCare.gov by the end of November.


CBS News Web Copy
By Sharyl Attkisson

(CBS News) WASHINGTON -- It all sounded pretty good the day healthcare.gov went online: President Obama said people were flocking to the site. And any "glitches," as he called them, would be fixed and they'd have the site running more quickly in just a few hours.

On Friday -- 24 days later -- the man the president brought in to rescue his health insurance program acknowledged the painfully obvious: that the problems have been far worse than we were told. Jeffrey Zeints said they'll take weeks -- if not longer -- to fix. Plus, he's shaking up the team overseeing the repairs.

The government has brought in consultant Zients to spearhead repairs of healthcare.gov. On Friday, what he told reporters on a conference call was a game changer: the web site's problems amount to way more than a glitch.

"It'll take a lot of work and there are a lot of problems that need to be addressed, he said. "There is a punch list of fixes and we're going to punch them out one by one."

That assessment goes much deeper than the idea Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius promoted: that the main problem was unexpected volume.

"We were just wildly incorrect," she said. "The number so far exceeded that. And now there are very specific diagnostics in place."

Zients says there are two categories of issues with the web site: performance, which is speed, response time and reliability; and function, the bugs that prevent the software from working properly.

The government also announced it's removing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as overseers of repairs. That job is going to QSSI, one of the tech companies that helped build healthcare.gov.

"And by the end of November, healthcare.gov will work smoothly for the vast majority of users," said Zients.

That end of November date could be make or break for affordable care, according to one former Obamacare official who didn't want to be identified. He said the government has weeks -- not months -- to fix the Web site before the entire business model gets thrown off.

Joel Ario agrees that fixes must come fast. He was director of the HHS Office of Exchanges.

"The longer they go, the more people get impatient about it," he said. "But for the period we're in now, I think we're very much in a zone where the administration has about a month here to get it right."

The government said that as few as 3 in 10 people who try can complete the application process. But it said 9 in 10 people are at least able to create an account. However, I tried three times to create an account and the system would not let me do it.

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