What Kathleen Sebelius Said and Didn't Say at the Obamacare Hearings

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the troubled launch of the website. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

In contentious 3 1/2 hour hearing on the Capitol yesterday, HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius defended the Affordable Care Act while acknowledging that there are serious technical failures in the health exchange website launch. Sarah Kliff, health policy reporter for the Washington Post and Wonkblog, discusses Sec. Sebelius' testimony and what comes next for Obamacare.

Comments [63]

@Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Huh...Think you missed a dose or took two at once or something...

@RUCB - google "anecdotal" (LOL, google is a website search engine)

It's the non-use of facts, like my cousin Vinnie's hernia operation.
That was my point.
... and so are polls, Sparky. We can all find some to support our arguments.
Nice try at deflection.

Nov. 01 2013 10:57 AM

On the show one sincere sounding woman complained about the expensive plan that would 'allow her' to go to any doctor.
Insurance plans don't allow or disallow you to go to doctors.
Insurance plans pay some of your expenses. This particular woman had a habit of paying a small premium and paying for her Doctor Visits.
You can ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS pay for any doctor visits. Any Doctor anywhere anytime.
The some plans pay for 'out of network doctors', or pay less for out of network doctors. If you pay out of pocket for your doctor visit, that goes to your deductible. There's no need to pay for an expensive plan, when the cheapest ones give you lots of flexibility.

Also: regarding cancellations:
Some people got letters saying their health insurance plans were canceled because of the ACA. That's probably just a lie. The people who sold you cheap junk insurance for profit, the people who cancel your plan when you get sick, without mental health coverage, the people who are in it for the money, are not being perfectly honest.
The ACA allows existing plans to remain in force.
Here's an article that explains how that works.

Nov. 01 2013 03:04 AM

That's precisely why one shouldn't pick stories to match an ideology from the ample media swamp and, rather, speak to one's lovely Canadian cousin, or whomever. Done here, bye.

Oct. 31 2013 02:32 PM

Listen to Brian desperately trying to blame the insurance companies for mass cancellations. Obamacare has been sold on a false set of premises from the beginning. As the truth starts to emerge, democrat true believers are incredulous. Wait till the final shoe drops and we have to actually pay - through massive tax increases for all these Obamacare subsidies.

Oct. 31 2013 01:58 PM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

THAT is exactly my point .... your, I'm sure, VERY "lovely Canadian cousin" included.

Oct. 31 2013 01:16 PM

We could also anecdotally select many, many American healthcare horror stories.

Oct. 31 2013 12:53 PM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

@RUCB - google "anecdotal" (LOL, google is a website search engine)

It's the non-use of facts, like my cousin Vinnie's hernia operation.
That was my point.
... and so are polls, Sparky. We can all find some to support our arguments.
Nice try at deflection.

Oct. 31 2013 12:10 PM


"...there are zillions of stories..." Which are anecdotal.

How 'bout some facts?

Oct. 31 2013 11:58 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Quote- Robert from NYC

"Well over these five years of OhBummer I notice the man is more slick Willie than Clinton. Obama is Slicker Willie. He give good inspirational speeches then fizzles out on action. This man was a mistake in this office."

Robert, you racist, don't you know that he is our untouchable first Black President?

Oct. 31 2013 11:42 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan


That is such selective BALONEY!!!
And worthless. (Who cares about your cousin's story, BTW?)

There are a zillion horror stories about the unbelievable waits and delays for CANCER SURGERY in Canada that we could anecdotally select to argue against it.

Oct. 31 2013 11:36 AM

My lovely Canadian cousin, Mom of three, married to an American, has gone home to Canada for her last two childbirth experiences because the care is so much better than here.

Oct. 31 2013 11:22 AM
Chris Garvey from Amityville

The strategy you could use under the Ron Paul Heath-care Bill:
- Buy cheap insurance when you are young.
- Save money in a tax deductible health care savings account.
- Pay for minor medical out-of-pocket, which would be fully tax deductible.
- As your health savings account grows, raise your insurance deductible, which lowers the cost of insurance. Last I heard, the cost, of administering under $3000 claims, exceeds those claims. Eliminating this administrative cost would save a fortune; and would get your insurer, and it's choice of doctors, out of your routine medical decisions.
- With personally purchased plans being as tax-deductible as employer plans, a market for individual accounts would grow. Who would buy a plan where, if you lose your job because you're too sick to work, you lose your health insurance? Only your employer. But tax law favored Employer-purchased insurance, which was the only way to use pre-tax dollars to cover medical expenses. The Ron Paul bill would eliminate said tax disparity.

Oct. 31 2013 11:22 AM
Pascale from Atlanta


Seeing the results in Canada, France, England and Ireland is why we should say NO to socialized medicine.

What is wrong with those countries? I am Canadian and I had nothing to pay for my mom last year when she died of cancer. How much do you think it would have cost me here in the US for the year she spent at the hospital?

Oct. 31 2013 10:56 AM
Julie from Brooklyn

Brian, I think some of the problem with the understanding of the ACA is that it covers people who buy on the individual market. That is not most people and so there is a huge lack of knowledge among the populace (and pundits, and reporters, and..) as to how that market works. Most people WILL be keeping their insurance (employer-sponsored, etc.), but the ACA is, will and was designed to shake up the individual market. There was reams and reams of info out there about how the individual market would change under the ACA (including minimum standards), so anyone who thought that people who had insurance through the individual market wouldn't experience changes had their heads in the sand! The law was DESIGNED to CHANGE that market!! If someone's been purchasing on the individual market, why wouldn't they make the effort to understand the ACA before it went into effect (as I do and did)? People need to read and inform themselves about things that will directly affect them. Also, what's being lost is that the changes to the individual market are GOOD; they are meant to help people. The idea (from the Congresswoman's comparison) that you can take any car on the road that you want isn't exactly can drive different models, but there are standards in general for cars to be on the road. That is for everyone's SAFETY. The ACA is the same thing. It's meant to change the individual market in a way that will help EVERYONE and I personally am getting a little fatigued by the number of Americans who only want what THEY want and only care how things are affecting THEM. It's the UNITED States...we're all in this together. As far as Mr. Obama's statements that people can keep their own insurance, my feeling always was that this was a generalized statement and was all part of the back and forth political rhetoric regarding the ACA. I didn't listen to any of that, I informed myself. Maybe more people should read about things (or listen to the radio!) and turn of the noise from TV news, which is not very informative. I think, in general, there was a failure in getting out information on the ACA by pretty much everyone. Our government was too busy playing politics with it and the media was too busy covering the politics to actually look at the law and inform the public about it. It's terrible, but that's why I informed myself!

Oct. 31 2013 10:54 AM
Amy from Manhattan

People who have health insurance as sole proprietors (freelancers) have been able to get group insurance through associations. This status won't exist after 1/1/14, & freelancers will be covered as individuals. The idea is that PPACA's elimination of "preexisting condition" denials & creation of health insurance exchanges makes the sole-proprietor category unnecessary. I think this info hasn't been publicized enough.

Oct. 31 2013 10:46 AM
David from Fairfield CT

Had one of these crappy plans from BlueCross when I was a youngman in the 90s. It only cover hospital and emergency room care. Got sick with tendinitis in my arm. Visted the emergency room, got treatment but needed to follow up with clinical visits. The plan would not pay for the clinic. I made 5 visiits to the emergency room before the problem was resolved.

Oct. 31 2013 10:42 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

For criticisms of "single payer" go here:

Oct. 31 2013 10:41 AM
Margaret Smith from Gillette, NJ

We recently received a letter from Horizon Blue Cross of NJ informing us that our current plan would no longer be available in January. However, if we do not choose another plan ourselves on the health marketplace or through Horizon directly, we will automatically be signed up for a new policy through Horizon that will probably be more expensive because the coverage must be more extensive than we had or that we want. We will be shopping on the healthcare marketplace but haven't done so yet because of all the problems.

Oct. 31 2013 10:38 AM

Seeing the results in Canada, France, England and Ireland is why we should say NO to socialized medicine.

Oct. 31 2013 10:37 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I lived under "single payer" in Israel in the 1980s. It's not that great.

Oct. 31 2013 10:36 AM
Barbara385 from Greenwich Village

The community membership brings down the costs for everybody. The callers today who said I don't need, are forgetting, the long range goal to be achieved is lower costs for all across the system. It's about everybody getting a good deal. If we had single payor, Medicare for all, none of these various pains would have occurred. Think France, Canada, Norway, Singapore.

Oct. 31 2013 10:33 AM

I wonder if the Obamacare officials have seen something like this:
Any Federal Official leaking the actual number of successful sign-ups to Health Insurance via may face charges of Espionage, under The Espionage Act of 1917, Title 18 U.S.C. ch. 37 § 792 et seq.
“Such creatures of passion, disloyalty, and anarchy must be crushed out.”
The President

Oct. 31 2013 10:32 AM
J M from UWS

The plan I have now has been discontinued.

I went on the NYS exchange and:

All are high deductible.

There is no out of network coverage.

I am told my doctors are on certain plans. My doctors say they are not.

There are no HSAs.

The only difference between the "cadillac" plans is the higher cost and lower deductibles.

And, to Beth & Brian, people who run in to see their doctors because of lower co-pays actually live longer. That's why the UK has a higher life expectancy than the US!

Oct. 31 2013 10:31 AM

Wouldn't it be great if someone who knew something about the insurance industry did the reporting on this subject? Clearly, this woman knows little about insurance, the industry, or healt care! I am so tired of these instant-experts who dig less than an inch deep calling themselves reporters without doing the work!

Oct. 31 2013 10:30 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Obama could have just expanded medicaid and medicare but oh no...a public option would have been called "socialist."

So we have a neo-con solution in the ACA aka "Obamacare" - which is a giveaway to insurance companies and does little to hold down rising health costs.

Republicans only hate "Obamacare" because it's from Obama.

Oct. 31 2013 10:30 AM

"We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good."
"It's time for a new beginning, for an end to government of the few, by the few, and for the few, and to replace it with shared responsibility for shared prosperity."
"(We) can't just let business as usual go on, and that means something has to be taken away from some people."
"We have to build a political consensus, and that requires people to give up a little bit of their own turf in order to create this common ground."
"I certainly think the free-market has failed."
"I think it's time to send a clear message to what has become the most profitable sector in (the) entire economy - that they are being watched."
socialist/Marxist Marxist. . . .
Hillary Clinton!

Oct. 31 2013 10:30 AM
genejoke from Brooklyn

Does Obamacare cover VOCAL FRY?
This is, liiiike, a serious? illnessss.

Oct. 31 2013 10:27 AM

The caller complaining about her increased bill to see any doctor she wants.

I am unaware of any insurance policy for $3000 a year to cover a family that covers out of network care at anything close to the same level as in network care, which would be required for a patient to see any doctor she wanted as she says she is currently able to do under her current policy.

This is the problem with anecdotes: people don't tell the whole story.

And, as to Marsha Blackburn's foolish comment, who does she think ends up paying for the care of unwanted children or those who grow up with infirmities due to poor maternal care because people decide maternal care is unimportant to them. And we don't get to always choose what is relevant to us. Even if you send your child to a private school, you're still required to pay taxes to support public schools as you are even if you've never had children or your children are grown.

Oct. 31 2013 10:27 AM
Dee from Montclair

Here's how insurance works. A big pool of people pay premiums and if they need it they use it. Insurance companies are playing a game, they drop people who might get sick. This is why single payer works. Insurance companies are up to their old tricks. Business is determined to make this not work.

Oct. 31 2013 10:26 AM
Ann from Brooklyn

I currently have an individual plan for which I pay $1400.00 a month, with lots of out of pocket costs. Last year about $3,000. On NYS exchange a new equivalent plan with same carrier will be $800.00, and better prescription coverage.

Oct. 31 2013 10:25 AM
Steve from upper west side

Why is everyone so surprised (Pres. Obama included) that the insurance companies are acting like, well, insurance companies...? Obama danced with the devil, in that the ACA (Obamacare) is a total giveaway to the Insurance industry and simply cements them into place as overseer of our health care industry with total power to make these decisions... Too bad Obama didn't have the political guts to entertain the idea of, let alone fight for, SINGLE PAYER -- it would have been more difficult to push through, and hugely unpopular with the Republicans and the powerful insurance industry since it removes their monopolistic power, but totally the right thing for America and 100% best for Americans and for healthcare overall. Had he done so, we would not be in this horrible situation today, and tomorrow and for the foreseeable future...

Oct. 31 2013 10:25 AM
JH from East Village

Although those of us who buy our own insurance will, of course, be able to buy another policy on the exchange, although perhaps for a lot more money, many of the available plans, including those from my current carrier - Oxford - markedly restrict access to providers and facilities compared with current plans. For some individuals, this could be a very important issue. It does not outweigh the other potential beneficial effects of the ACA on a national level, but it deserves honest discussion and some moderation in the attitude that any criticism of this misrepresentation amounts to whining.

Oct. 31 2013 10:25 AM
Chris Garvey from Amityville

If some people need government subsidies, why should subsidies be sent through insurance company middlemen?
We are losing insurance for the 80% already insured, so that the 20% uninsured can theoretically be insured under terms they don't want or need.

Oct. 31 2013 10:25 AM
Tony Iantosca from Brooklyn

I hadn't had health insurance for the last 5 years until the New York State healthcare marketplace opened. Now I'll only be paying $70 a month for a plan that has a $250 deductible. I hear everyone's concerns about healthcare companies dropping the insured, but for me this has been exponentially better than not having health insurance for the last five years. I also feel like a lot of people like me are not speaking up enough, and what dominates the discussion instead is the notion that the government is intruding on people's healthcare.

Oct. 31 2013 10:25 AM

Four Pinocchios? Really? How long would the mics have stayed on if the President had said, "If you like you current coverage, you can keep it IF your insurer continues the plan. All current plans have been grandfathered for a year but your insurer may opt to terminate a plan ahead of schedule. That is their business decision."

What's next? The ACA was the second gunman at Dealy Plaza.

@Chris Garvey from Amityville

"Ron Paul Healthcare bill..."

LOL! How many years of tax credits will it take to pay back three weeks in the NICU for a preemie.

"Will a single dude have to buy maternity care."

You bet. Your status could change during the coverage year.

Oct. 31 2013 10:24 AM
ivan obregon from nyc

All this is highlighting the criticism Obama got from the left on his and Rahm Emmanuel's decision to eliminate the single-payer progressives were pointing this option would allow for a safety net within what is still essentially a liberal-republican idea of a healthcare system.

Oct. 31 2013 10:24 AM

What a terrible guest. She has absolutely nothing to say, and whatever she has said she said with imprecision, equivocation and ambivalence. She's contributed absolutely nothing to this segment. I understand guests will occasionally be clinkers. She should not be invited back. It's just too bad a major newspaper trusts her to cover this important topic.

Oct. 31 2013 10:24 AM
Susan from North Salem, NY

Seth, no kidding!! Not to mention she said "family of six". Having four kids is expensive. Boo-hoo.

Oct. 31 2013 10:24 AM
The Truth from Becky

Why aren't you upset with the insurance companies?

You can't realistically expect to pay next to nothing when you have such major illness? Can you? or is that the President's fault also?

Everyone's situation is different thus costs are different.

Oct. 31 2013 10:23 AM

Can reporters no longer REPORT the news? This woman is mixing opinion, misinformation, and a few facts! I am a retiree with an employee provided plan. I received a notice that beginning January 2014 I will be in the insurance marketplace. Over the years of my employment and my retirement, my former employer changed my health plan, the coverage, etc. Each time I had to select doctors, in-network or out-network, These things changes are not new! Two years ago I went for my regular exam, only to learn that I was responsible for expenses that had previously been covered. I had failed to read the changes. These things happen, folks. These are vagaries of the marketplace--NOT OBAMACARE!

Oct. 31 2013 10:22 AM

The woman speaking now really does NOT have insurance. No wonder her policy is cancelled. If her family ran out of money, the taxpayers would have to foot her bill. can't really sympathize with her.

Oct. 31 2013 10:22 AM
Robert from NYC

Well over these five years of OhBummer I notice the man is more slick Willie than Clinton. Obama is Slicker Willie. He give good inspirational speeches then fizzles out on action. This man was a mistake in this office. I'm proud to say I didn't vote for him (or at all) last year. Seems politicians like Drs are competing for the lowest level--lower than lawyers--on the professions scale.

Oct. 31 2013 10:20 AM
Nick from UWS

The fact that this guest speaks like a gum chewing mall 'teen from Beverly Hills 90210 does not help her credibility.

Oct. 31 2013 10:20 AM
Salma from Manhattan

I got a letter from my insurance company many months ago saying that I would get to keep my plan (I am on the individual market). I pay a very low premium and get good benefits. I have also been getting letters since then notifying me of my expanding benefits (expanded maternity benefits, they will now cover sex change operations). Coincidence or not? Not sure. My premium seems like it will only go up a normal amount it has gone up over the past years. Maybe I'm living in a vortex, but for me, it seems like ACA is doing it's good.

Oct. 31 2013 10:18 AM
Pascale from Atlanta

Wow, so people liked that they were not covered for a whole bunch of things with their previous plan? Give me a break!

Oct. 31 2013 10:18 AM
The Truth from Becky

Kept my same coverage - everyone at my company did.

Oct. 31 2013 10:18 AM

Who is this guest? Isn't it possible to get people on who can speak like normal human beings?

Oct. 31 2013 10:17 AM
Nick from UWS

Jesus Christ...."four Pinnochios"....dribbling children from the playroom commenting on adult matters of deadly seriousness.

Oct. 31 2013 10:16 AM

Its a reboot. Yes people are losing crappy "medical insurance" products. Yes the new coverage is more expense compared to their old one but now its real medical coverage not last chance coverage.

Oct. 31 2013 10:16 AM
Dorothy from Manhattan

I got a notice from my Medicare Advantage provider (Aetna) that the policy will not be offered in 2014. I'm going to "Traditional" Medicare -- The policy I had was OK, but not terrific. It's a big bother to switch and I was tied to the old plan simply through inertia.

Oct. 31 2013 10:16 AM
Nick from UWS

OF COURSE the President lied about this (being able to keep your current plan). DO YOU REALLY THINK that this whole thing has ANYTHING to do with benefits for the general public? DO YOU REALLY THINK that millions of back-room deals were not made, that the ACA is what it appears to be? The childish naivete of the US people is bottomless.

Oct. 31 2013 10:14 AM
The Truth from Becky

Problems with the website does not negate the benefits of the Affordable Healthcare Coverage.

PICK UP THE PHONE and get help just like you do for your car insurance.

Oct. 31 2013 10:13 AM
Chris Garvey from Amityville

Ron Paul Healthcare bill
A better solution would be the Ron Paul bill:

A. Provides all Americans with a tax credit for 100% of health care expenses. The tax credit is fully refundable against both income and payroll taxes;
B. Allows individuals to roll over unused amounts in cafeteria plans and Flexible Savings Accounts (FSA);
C. Provides a tax credit for premiums for high-deductible insurance policies connected with a Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and allows seniors to use funds in HSAs to pay for medigap policies;
D. Repeals the 7.5% threshold for the deduction of medical expenses, thus making all medical expenses tax deductible.

This bill also creates a competitive market in heath insurance. It achieves this goal by exercising Congress’s authority under the Commerce Clause to allow individuals to purchase
health insurance across state lines.

Oct. 31 2013 10:13 AM

"Secretary Sibelius is a Catholic who has been asked not to present herself for Communion, one level of excommunication, need more be said?"
Why? For the Affordable Care Act? So she should go to another parish.

Oct. 31 2013 10:13 AM

Will a single dude have to buy maternity care.

Oct. 31 2013 10:12 AM
Full Time Employee from Brooklyn

I work for a small company - kept my same insurance, I was refunded money where I had been overcharged PRIOR TO the Affordable Healthcare Act and the premiums went DOWN!! for my 2014 coverage.

Oct. 31 2013 10:11 AM

At last! Somebody who is digging below the millions of customers who HAVE to change their insurance. The fifteen million individual insureds were always getting hammered on a yearly basis. This year those with an re-rates/cancellations blame it on ObamaCare.

A little honesty in reporting. Wish the cable news companies would try to tell the rest of the story.

Oct. 31 2013 10:10 AM
Chris from Amityville

"What difference does it make?"

Oct. 31 2013 10:09 AM
Allison from brooklyn

For instance...THIS website is being glitchy on my computer right now. I have no margin on the left side of my screen. It's very hard to read or look at the information here. Is Congress going to yell at you as well?

Oct. 31 2013 10:08 AM
Chris from Amityville

I lost my policy when my insurer left the small company market.

Oct. 31 2013 10:08 AM
Ned from here in town

WHAT is all this hand-wringing about the problems with the Obamacare website? It'll get fixed, and in the meantime: PICK UP THE PHONE, make a call. Jeez.

Oct. 31 2013 10:07 AM
Allison from brooklyn

I'm a web designer and I don't understand why everybody is so surprised about the glitchy or breaking down brand new website. When has a new website every rolled out and not had problems..lots of problems? I mean why is nobody freaking out that the college application common application is broken and all they did was "upgrade" it.

All websites break down when they are new or "updated" from the New York Times to Amazon. This who outrage is a little silly.

Also it sound like this may be a very new type of site. There may not be anything that will be so big. When has a new thing ever started that worked as soon as it was done? Never.

I want a million web creators march on Washington to protest the protests of the site.

Oct. 31 2013 10:05 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Secretary Sibelius is a Catholic who has been asked not to present herself for Communion, one level of excommunication, need more be said?

Oct. 31 2013 08:26 AM

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