GOP Lawmakers Push Faster Delivery of Documents

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., sent an Oct. 24 letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius threatening her with a subpoena if she fails to turn over materials. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., sent an Oct. 24 letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius threatening her with a subpoena if she fails to turn over materials. Carolyn Kaster/AP

A ranking senator and a key House committee chairman are ratcheting up pressure on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to speed up delivery of documents and explanations for the shaky rollout of the website.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has teamed up with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, to send an Oct. 24 letter to Sebelius threatening her with a subpoena if she fails to turn over materials by the close of business on Oct. 28. Lawmakers first requested the documents in an Oct. 10 letter.

Highlighting the delays in consumer access and software malfunctions that have plagued the website at a time when the 2010 Affordable Care Act itself remains controversial, the latest letter told Sebelius, “Your failure to provide Congress information that would shed additional light on these problems is a troubling indication that you are refusing to hold people accountable for this costly and failed enterprise. While you have refused to provide information to Congress, you have been a frequent guest on numerous news and television comedy programs subsequent to October 1, 2013. It is unacceptable that you are providing information to numerous other outlets, but not to Congress.”

Issa and Alexander cited recent press commentary declaring the rollout of Obamacare a failure. The letter juxtaposed such coverage with statements made this summer by Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the HHS-run Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, reassuring Congress that “on Oct 1, 2013, the health insurance marketplace will be open for business. Consumers will be able to log onto, fill out an application and find out what coverage and benefits they qualify for.”

The lawmakers also demanded that Sebelius answer a series of questions such as how many people have enrolled for new health insurance on the exchanges (the administration has said it would not supply such numbers before November) and provide details on the website’s technical problems as well as plans to fix them.

Asked for a response, HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said in an email, “We have told the committee repeatedly that we intend to accommodate their interest in better understanding our efforts to implement the ACA. The committee sent us an extremely broad request for documents on Oct. 10 -- while the government was still shut down -- and asked that we produce these materials within two weeks. Since the government reopened on Oct. 17, we have been engaged in discussions with the committee to better understand and prioritize their requests. We are working to provide information responsive to the committee’s requests, and look forward to continuing to work cooperatively to satisfy their interest in this matter.”

Sebelius and other HHS officials are slated to testify on the rollout’s problems before congressional panels next week.

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