Few House Republicans show for briefing
By: Paige Winfield Cunningham
October 30, 2013 04:48 PM EDT
House Republicans clamored for an Obamacare briefing from administration officials — just like the one Democrats got.
But when they got that meeting Wednesday, a handful of members showed up.
Republicans emerging from the closed-door session with Mike Hash, director of HHS’s Office of Health Reform, said about 10 to 20 members came to hear what Hash had to say about the health care law’s bungled rollout — even though they’ve been complaining that they’re not getting enough details from the administration about it.
Hash spoke for about 10 minutes and took questions from members for the rest of the session — many of which had come up that morning during a closely watched congressional hearing featuring HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Republicans told Hash they’d like to see Sebelius enroll in an insurance exchange just like millions of Americans will do. They also expressed concerns that the contractor overseeing the technical fixes to HealthCare.gov is the same one that built the federal data hub.
“The whole idea of testing is to have someone independent,” Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said. “This thing is really looking very incestuous.”
Republicans had demanded their own meeting with administration officials after such a meeting was scheduled with House Democrats. That took place last Wednesday, before members had the chance to hear from Sebelius and CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner in two congressional panels this week.
But the the highest-ranking member of GOP leadership to show was Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). “It’s going well,” she responded, when asked about the meeting as she ducked out early.
A spokesman for John Boehner said the House speaker didn’t attend the meeting because the fact that Sebelius and Tavenner have now testified before Congress caused the situation to change — although Boehner isn’t on either of the committees that conducted the hearings.
“At the time the briefing was scheduled, Secretary Sebelius was refusing to testify openly at a congressional committee,” spokesman Michael Steel said. “Given her testimony today, and the CMS administrator’s yesterday, the situation has changed.”
Members who stayed for the whole meeting said they appreciated the chance to talk with Hash — but said he didn’t give any new details about the rollout of the Affordable Care Act or how its problems will be solved, beyond what Sebelius said earlier in the day.
One thing he did acknowledge is that getting young, healthy people to sign up for Obamacare is “a difficulty,” according to Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas).
“This briefing was useful and really I think the agency would do itself a lot of good if it would come to answer these kinds of questions in a more informal session rather than making us go through the drama of a congressional hearing,” Burgess said.
“I think [Hash] was more or less going back over a lot of the same information that came up today,” Fleming said. “He’s making himself available and we appreciate that.”
Others were deeply skeptical of Hash’s reassurances that the website will be running well by the end of next month. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said she’s even more doubtful given that HealthCare.gov was down overnight and this morning.
“He said that by Nov. 30 everything is going to be up and glowing and running and there will be nothing to worry about,” Bachmann said. “Really? When for the last three hours the system has crashed and burned?”