On Tuesday, Tavenner offered a preview of what lawmakers and consumers can expect from Sebelius, especially given that the written testimony for both officials was similar. In those prepared remarks, Tavenner (PDF) and Sebelius (PDF) both acknowledge that the federal website has caused frustrations for Americans and also that a subset of the CMS' contracts for HealthCare.gov have not met expectations.
When pressed for more details about that Tuesday, Tavenner identified CGI Federal as the contractor responsible for those problems, which she cited as "issues with timing of delivery."
Meanwhile, lawmakers are likely to grill Sebelius, who is experienced in tough confrontations from her time as Kansas governor, for specific numbers on enrollment so far. Administration officials, including Tavenner, have said repeatedly that HHS will release those numbers in mid-November. To date, more than 700,000 Americans have completed the application process, but officials have not indicated how many of those have actually enrolled.
On Saturday, the IRS announced that it has conducted more than 330,000 eligibility calculations for premium tax credits since Oct. 1. That offers the clearest indication so far of how many people have tried to enroll in the insurance exchanges, or at least how many have sought federal premium subsidies.
Sebelius likely will provide an update on what the CMS is doing now to fix the severe website problems that have caused headaches and failed attempts for Americans trying to buy private health insurance online, which have been especially troublesome in the 36 states served by the federal online marketplace. Residents in many of the 15 states plus the District of Columbia that are running their own exchanges have had a much smoother experience in signing up for coverage.
In a call with reporters Tuesday, Julie Bataille, director of the CMS communications office, ticked off a list of recent improvements that include implementing a new software configuration to create efficiency, adding capacity by doubling the number of services, and pushing through software fixes that address the difficult time users have experienced logging in. Through enhancements made to the account creation process, HealthCare.gov is now able to process 17,000 registrations per hour, or roughly 5 per second, with no error rates, Bataille said.
Some news reports indicated that the HealthCare.gov website was becoming easier to use this week.
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee members undoubtedly will pounce on President Barack Obama's promise that Americans who like their health plans can keep them—as their Ways and Means colleagues did Tuesday.
In that hearing, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) cited a news report that about 146,000 Michiganders received cancellation notices from insurers. Later, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) shared a story about one of his constituents who wrote that she likes her health coverage but was notified by Blue Cross and Blue Shield that her current plan will change and her monthly premium would increase to $865 from $474 starting in January.
"There has always been the issue where issuers have the ability to stop offering a policy," Tavenner said.
Experts note that many of the plans being canceled have higher out-of-pocket costs and skimpier benefits than the new plans available Jan. 1 under the healthcare reform law.
Bataille later addressed the issue with reporters by saying "a lot of insurers are upgrading their plans and policies."
Follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter: @MHjzigmond