WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Barack Obama’s embattled top health official faced some tough questions Wednesday about the disastrous rollout of the federal health insurance website.
As CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported, Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, testified on Capitol Hill, playing defense as she received an earful from members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) even invoked the “Wizard of Oz” to make his point.
“Dorothy, at some point in the movie turns to her little dog, Toto, and says, ‘Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore,'” Barton said. “Well, Madam Secretary, while you’re from Kansas, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Sebelius declared herself accountable and apologized to people having trouble signing up for health insurance.
“You deserve better,” she said. “I apologize.”
Sebelius, however, insisted the website never crashed and pointed the finger. “It is the Verizon server that failed, not HealthCare.gov,” she said. “And it affected not only HHS, but other customers.”
But critics demanded that Sebelius provide the names of those to blame.
When pressed by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) about who was in charge of a key aspect of launching the site, Sebelius named Michelle Snyder, chief operating officer at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
“Michelle Snyder is the one responsible for this debacle?” Blackburn said.
“Excuse me, Congresswoman, Michelle Snyder is not responsible for the debacle,” Sebelius shot back. “Hold me accountable for the debacle.”
Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), meanwhile, was looking for a bigger fish.
“While I think that it’s great that you’re a team player and taking responsiblity, it is the president’s ultimate responsibility, correct?” he said.
Sebelius responded: “You clearly — whatever. Yes. He is the president. He is responsible for government programs.”
A memo obtained by The Associated Press said incomplete testing created uncertainties that posed a potentially high security risk for the website. It called for a six-month “mitigation” program, including ongoing monitoring and testing.
Republicans opposed to Obama’s health care law are calling for Sebelius to resign.
Lawmakers also wanted to know how many people have enrolled in plans through the health insurance marketplaces. Sebelius stuck with the administration response, promising to release the data in mid-November.
Democrats defended the Affordable Care Act and Sebelius.
“I don’t know how you keep your cool by the continued attack by the GOP trying to sabotage the ACA to scare people and bring up red herrings,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).
Despite the website’s problems, Sebelius defended the health care overhaul, the signature legislative accomplishment of Obama’s first term. She said the glitches will be fixed by Nov. 30 and gaining health insurance will make a positive difference in the lives of millions of Americans.
Speaking in Boston on Wednesday, Obama said he wants the site fixed as quickly as possible.
“Look, there’s no denying it,” he said. “Right now, the website is too slow, too many people have gotten stuck, and I am not happy about it.”
Meanwhile, New York officials are promising to fix the state’s health insurance exchange website after businesses that have nothing to do with medical care were listed as places to find help.
As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, Apex Car & Limo Inc., Zambrand Auto Repair and Brooklyn Cupcake were among the businesses that appeared on the website along with their phone numbers.
“I can fix your car, but I don’t think I can fix your health,” said Marco Abad, of Zambrand Auto Repair.
The state has removed the incorrect numbers and says it will post updated listings soon.
The businesses received calls about the Affordable Care Act. Gus Rodriguez of Brooklyn Cupcake said he has no clue how the bakery got listed on the state’s health insurance website.
“They’re asking, ‘How can I apply for health care? Where do I put in for my application? Who do I talk to?'” Rodriguez said.
While the wrong listings pale in comparison to the troubles the federal health care insurance website is going through, Yvegeniy Feyman, a Manhattan Institute health care policy researcher, said it speaks to the rough rollout for the Affordable Care Act.
“People losing confidence in the law, not being able to sign up,” he said. “I think we’re going to see much more of this.”
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