Secretary Sebelius was not the only high-ranking Obama Administration official to appear before the monkey court this week. (We assume Representative Pallone meant all of Congress when creating one of our favorite lines to ever air on C-SPAN.) On Tuesday, Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner testified before the House Ways and Means Committee. Tavenner was in for a grueling hearing since the contractors tasked with developing the technology for healthcare.gov essentially threw her under the bus during their hearing with the House Energy and Commerce Committee. As expected, the committee pressed her for enrollment numbers, which she did not have. The initial enrollment numbers will not be available until mid-November, according to Tavenner; she also noted that she expects the initial enrollment numbers to be small. That answer did not satisfy many members of the committee. As Representative Joe Crowley (D-NY) noted during his questioning, Ms. Tavenner was asked versions of that question at least 22 times before he lost count.
Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) raised one of the most interesting points of the hearing in the few minutes he had to question Ms. Tavenner. Specifically, he was concerned about subsidy verification for young adults under the age of 26 who are eligible to remain on their parents’ health plans. We know that if a young adult under 26 years of age can remain on their parents plan, they are not eligible for a subsidy in the exchange in the event they decide not to remain on their parents plan. Representative Ryan’s concern was that this is a little known fact and not well publicized on the website. So, if a 24-year old who could remain on their parents plan decided to go get coverage on the exchange instead and applied and received a tax credit, according to the law, that 24-year old would eventually have to pay the subsidy back because they were not in fact eligible for a subsidy. We hope that as a result of his questioning CMS makes improvements to this part of the site!
Finally, Tavenner apologized to the committee for the poor rollout and functioning of healthcare.gov, noting that the website was working, just not as smoothly as planned. This, she said, was the fault of the contractors. On this point, Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA), one of our champions on the $2,000 deductible bill NAHU strongly supports, responded that the federal government may need to reevaluate the way they obtain contractors since this situation is such a mess. Further, he pointed out that the healthcare.gov contractors had far from spotless records at the time they were acquired.
Tavenner assured the committee that she and a group of other CMS officials and contractors developed a pathway to improve the website functionality and indicated that she had the expectation that all the issues with the website will be fixed by November 30. We’ll check back in on that status once we come out of our post-Thanksgiving food comas.