HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' appearance before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday
failed to convince GOP lawmakers she's capable of overseeing the rest of the health reform law's implementation. On Thursday, 10 Republican senators asked the president to fire her.
Spearheaded by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)—who called on Sebelius to resign in late October—the letter cites massive problems with HealthCare.gov and Sebelius' actions after last month's calamitous launch of the federal Web portal as reasons why they want the president to relieve the secretary of her duties.
“In the days immediately following the launch, when it was apparent that problems were deep-seeded, Secretary Sebelius misled the public by claiming the issues were the result of high volume,” the senators wrote in their letter to President Barack Obama. “According to her statements to the press, she even failed to inform you, the president under who she serves, until days after the website launch that there were systemic problems needing millions more dollars and man hours to fix.”
Sebelius, the former insurance commissioner for Kansas, has been in the hot seat for weeks as a host of problems have plagued the federal online system that was intended to be the easiest and most efficient way for consumers to shop for health plans in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchanges.
Roberts, along with GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), John Cornyn (Texas), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), James Risch (Idaho), Mark Kirk (Ill.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Jim Inhofe (Okla.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) wrote that although the administration has made assurances that solutions to the website's problems are forthcoming, they don't have confidence that those will happen any time soon.
“After spending more than $400 million on the failed website,” they continued, “taxpayers should not trust the same failed leadership to fix it. We believe that action must be taken swiftly to protect the American people from further fallout.”
When asked for a response to the letter, an HHS spokesperson referred to comments from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday that the White House has confidence in the secretary.
On Friday, Sebelius is scheduled to visit the Southside Medical Center in Atlanta, where she will participate in events that will promote different ways Georgians can learn about the health insurance exchange and enroll in coverage. She also is expected to meet with local assistors and consumers.
The administration has promised to release figures next week on enrollment in plans sold in the new insurance marketplaces.
Sebelius testified Wednesday that the administration's team of internal and external experts have identified a long list of problems with HealthCare.gov and deemed the site “fixable.”
HHS and the CMS are committed to making HealthCare.gov work smoothly for consumers by the end of the November, she said. Follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter: @MHjzigmond