Republicans are stepping up their pressure on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as she gears up to testify before Congress this week on Obamacare’s botched rollout.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) called her the “laughingstock of America” on ABC’s “This Week” after she was relentlessly mocked in a Saturday Night Live skit that aired last night. The show poked fun at how little she knew about the website’s problems or how to help Americans navigate it. "She's lost considerable credibility," Barrasso said.
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and avid critic of President Obama and his signature healthcare law, also had harsh words for the HHS secretary, suggesting that she should step down.
"If she cannot reorganize to get the kind of a team in consistently to meet (President Obama's) agenda, then she shouldn't be there,” Issa said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. He joins 32 House Republicans, including Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) who have called for her resignation within the last week as more and more reports of the website’s problems surface.
Sebelius is expected to be grilled Wednesday by the Republican-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee about the failed website that has been dubbed a disaster by people on both sides of the aisle, including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called the healthcare rollout “excruciatingly embarrassing.”
Vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN.), said on “Fox News Sunday” that the “incompetence in building this website is staggering” and called for the website to be suspended while the problems are reviewed. She added that lawmakers need to hear from Sebelius “before she is out the door.”
Democrats say the focus should be on fixing the website, instead of getting rid of Sebelius. "I think she should stay, and I think she will get the job done," Sen. Joe Manchin (D- WV) said on ABC’s “This Week.”
The website’s problems go beyond technical problems that have caused headaches for consumers and prevented them from signing up for the online exchanges. Insurers say the site has been generating inaccurate data, reporting spouses as children, duplicating enrollments and missing data fields--making it difficult for insurance companies to process enrollees.
In fact, the Obama administration said Friday that the site won’t be fully functional until the end of November—two months after its official launch date.
Jeff Zients, former acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, who has been tapped to oversee the website’s repairs, said on Friday that the site is fixable, but an assessment of its problems revealed that “it will take a lot of work,” since “there are a lot of problems that need to be addressed."
The administration has appointed a general contractor to oversee the repair efforts. The contractor –United Health Group’s unit QSSI—is the same firm that built the federal data hub for the site, which has been working smoothly and is not part of the problem, officials said on a call to reporters on Friday. QSSI has been paid $85 million for its work on the site so far.
Though the website won’t be working for another month, applicants that want to receive coverage that takes effect on Jan 1st must still enroll in the exchanges before Dec. 15.
The White House announced last week that Americans are required to obtain health insurance by March 31—six weeks later than previously scheduled—or they will face a penalty under the individual mandate.
But both Republicans and Democrats are calling for a longer extension to the deadline, due to the website’s problems.
So far, 10 Senate Democrats have signed a letter urging President Obama to further extend open enrollment due to the website’s problems.
"Extending this period will give consumers critical time in which to become familiar with the website and choose a plan that is best for them," the letter says. "Individuals should not be penalized for lack of coverage if they are unable to purchase health insurance due to technical problems."