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Sebelius finally speaks out on botched HealthCare.gov rollout: CNN transcript
Health and Human Services Sec. Kathleen Sebelius finally spoke out about the botched HealthCare.gov web site on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360° Tuesday show where she said President Barack Obama did not know about the problems before the launch. Here’s the CNN transcript:
SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: The president has broadly outlined a lot of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act in his speech yesterday.
I want to talk about this Web site and ask specifically, what is wrong?
KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, I think what we know is that, um, we had an enormous volume and the volume both caused some issues to show up and exposed some additional issues. Uh, people can’t get through it as quickly as possible. We can’t get the volume through. Although people are getting through every day.
So we’re not at all satisfied with, uh, the workings of the Web site. We want it to be smooth and easy and let consumers compare plans and — and choose a plan that’s good for themselves and their family.
And that’s what I’m focused on.
GUPTA: Is this — so this was a volume problem?
SEBELIUS: Well, I think volume was, uh, extremely high, which is good news. We’ve had, um, nearly 20 million people visit the Web site, uh, in the first three weeks. And that shows, I think, the pent up interest that people have in affordable, available health coverage.
But I would say volume caused some problems, but it also exposed some additional problems. And so we’re working hard to make sure that people can go on the site, find the plans they want, make good decisions for themselves and their families.
GUPTA: You know, according to Congressional investigators, just weeks before the launch, about two thirds of insurers had some concerns — specific concerns that the — the Web site would not be ready. Just days before the launch, a test was conducted and the Web site crashed with just a few hundred users at that time.
How was the decision made to still go forward?
SEBELIUS: Well, Sanjay, there are people in this country who have waited decades for affordable health coverage for themselves and their families. I see them all over the country. You probably saw them on your recent bus tour, people who are so eager for this to happen.
And what’s clear is we have a product. The product really works. We have created a market where there wasn’t a market. People have competitive private plans at affordable prices. They have the advantage, if they don’t have employer paying a share of their coverage, they are going to have some tax help paying a share of their coverage.
So waiting is not really an option. People can sign up on the Web site, at the call center, in person.
We have people signing up each and every day. We just want to make sure, uh, that the Web site works smoothly for everybody.
GUPTA: How — what degree of confidence did you have on October 1st, when you woke up, that things were going to go smoothly?
SEBELIUS: Well, I was optimistic that things would go smoothly. I, um, felt that, you know, the day had finally come — I — I’ve done this work now for three and a half years, implementing this historic law. We’ve already gotten millions of people affordable coverage, uh, young adults, parents with children with pre-existing conditions who had no options before now have lots of options.
We’re going to make sure that people actually can take advantage of this. And what’s the good news is that although, as the president said yesterday, the shopping cart may not be working quite well, the products are on the shelves. We have created a market. We’re early in the first quarter in — in football terms. We have a six month open enrollment period and I am confident that millions of Americans, at the end of open enrollment, March 31st, will have affordable coverage for the first time in their lives.
GUPTA: This whole process — and obviously, this is being, you know, one of the biggest domestic policy initiatives of this administration — there were changes being made, it sounded like, to the Web site pretty close to the end. One of the changes that you’ve probably been getting questions about is this idea that there was a — a feature to basically create it so people had to sign up or actually register before being able to see plans.
One of the concerns was that they would not be able to comparison shop or it might hide actual premium prices.
Is that true?
SEBELIUS: Well, I — I don’t know what you’re referring to. I do know that we have two options. Um, there is the so-called learn site of HealthCare.gov, where people can actually find out about insurance. What we know is a lot of people don’t know a lot about insurance, they don’t know how to balance that in their monthly budgets.
There also is, uh, a way to pull up information about your state, what’s available, what the plans look like.
What you can’t find out on that side of the plan, you can use a calculator, but you can’t really find out what tax subsidy you and your family might be eligible for.
The other side is the enroll side and at HealthCare.gov and you can go on and at that point, your tax subsidy can be figured in in a very individualized basis. And what we know is that the large majority of uninsured eligible Americans are eligible for some financial help buying that coverage, lowering their premium costs.
GUPTA: And did you try signing on the site yourself?
SEBELIUS: I have created an account on the site. I have not tried signing up, because I have…
SEBELIUS: — insurance.
GUPTA: Did you find it challenging?
Was there any — I mean what did you think of it?
SEBELIUS: Well, I — I think there certainly are some challenges. It could be smoother. It could be, uh, easier to access. And that’s really what we’re working on. I mean nobody says the site is working the way we want it to. Certainly, the president acknowledged that yesterday. No one could be more frustrated than I am, and the president, that this isn’t smooth.
People are signing up every day. People have available coverage. And no one, I think it’s important to say, Sanjay, is losing coverage now. The earliest the plans start is January 1st. If you sign up by the 15th of December, you will have coverage on day one.
So people are frustrated with a Web site, but the product is there. The prices are good. It will not sell out and the prices won’t change.
GUPTA: The president did — did say that he was, uh, angry about this.
I mean do you know when he first knew that there was a problem?
SEBELIUS: Well, I think it became clear fairly early on, uh, the first couple of days, that…
GUPTA: But not before that, though?
SEBELIUS: No, sir.
GUPTA: — October 1st?
There was no concern at that point here in the White House or HHS?
SEBELIUS: I think that we talked about, uh, having — testing, uh, going forward. And if we had an ideal situation and could have built the product in, you know, a five year period of time, we probably would have taken five years. But we didn’t have five years. And certainly Americans who rely on health coverage didn’t have five years for us to wait. We wanted to make sure we made good on this final implementation of the law.
And, again, people can sign up. The call center is open for business. We’ve had a 1,100,000 calls. We’ve had 19 million people visit the Web site, 500,000 accounts created. And people are shopping every day.
So people are signing up and there’s help in neighborhoods around the country, that people can have a one-on-one visit with a trained navigator and figure out how to sign up.
So people are able to sign up.
GUPTA: How — how many people have signed up?
SEBELIUS: We’ll be doing what we’ve done with every other program, Medicare Part D. We’ve done it with CHIP. We will give monthly enrollment figures. We’ve said that since the beginning.
But what we can tell you is that we have 500,000 plus accounts right now with people who have established that or are in the process of shopping for affordable coverage.
GUPTA: It seems like an important thing to know, I imagine, especially given all the problems with the site.
I mean how well is it working?
Can you say right now how well HealthCare.gov is working?
We know there’s problems, but what can you say about it?
SEBELIUS: Well, I think what we can tell you is that thousands of people have signed up. We know that people are getting through every day. It is not where we need it to be. It isn’t as smooth as we want it to be for the volume of people who want this product.
The good news is, we have a product. We have a market. We have competitive plans, affordable prices. And no one will ever be locked out of the insurance market again with a pre-existing health condition. And that’s really great news to millions of Americans.
GUPTA: But there’s a lot of frustration, obviously, in the country. And no one probably knows this better than you and the president.
Did you ever talk about resigning to the president?
SEBELIUS: What I talked about is doing the job that I came here to do. Uh, this is the most important work I’ve ever done in my life, delivering on an historic act, making sure that we have health security, uh, for the millions of Americans. This law was passed three and a half years ago. I’ve been working day in and day out to implement this law.
And at the end of the day, it’s about people like Evelyn Hernandez, who I was with in Miami, a single mom, uh, has no affordable coverage in her workplace, is terrified every day that something is going to happen to her, because if she gets hurt, uh, no one is there to take care of her child.
Evelyn finally has health security and millions of Evelyns like her.
So that’s where my focus is.
GUPTA: No, there’s great stories like that.
But again, there is a lot of frustration, as you know, Madam Secretary.
And if this persists, or even at this point now, would you consider resigning over this?
SEBELIUS: I think my job is to get this fully implemented and to get the Web site working right. And that’s really what I’m focused on. Uh, that’s — I work at the pleasure of the president. Uh, he is singularly focused on making sure we deliver on this promise. That’s what I’m committed to doing.
GUPTA: What has he said to you about this?
SEBELIUS: Let’s get it done. Um, you heard…
GUPTA: Have there been…
SEBELIUS: — him yesterday in the Rose Garden and, uh, you know, he is the first to admit that the Web site doesn’t work the way we need it to work. So that’s one of the reasons, Sanjay, we have announced this tech surge and bringing in, uh, new eyes and ears.
Jeff Zients, who’s a — a colleague and friend of mine from this administration, is coming in as a management consultant to, uh, be administrator of CMS, to make sure we look at the whole management system.
We want to make sure that we have the best and the brightest in terms of tech folks. We have gathered them together and asked the contractors to bring their A team to the table, have asked the, uh, presidential innovation fellows to add some strength, because we just want to make sure we get all the right answers and do what I needed to be done as quickly as possible to open up the doors of this marketplace.
GUPTA: Jeff Zients brings a CEO background with him.
SEBELIUS: He does.
GUPTA: What about tech people?
We hear the — the best and the brightest.
Are there people or companies that we’re going to recognize?
Can you give us some names?
SEBELIUS: Well, right now, we’ve asked all of our contractors to look at their teams on the ground and bring in, uh, their absolute A team. And I — I am confident that that is happening every day.
While we also, the presidential innovation fellows…
GUPTA: The contractors didn’t — didn’t — didn’t do such a great job so far.
SEBELIUS: Well, I…
GUPTA: I mean did — why didn’t they bring their A team in in the first place?
SEBELIUS: Uh, I can’t tell you, um…
GUPTA: Why are we saying…
SEBELIUS: — why they…
GUPTA: — three weeks now, bring your A team into this — this whole equation?
SEBELIUS: We have hoped that they had their A team on the table, but I — I am talking to CEOs and urging them to, uh, make sure that we have the talent that they have available. I — I think all of them have, uh, folks who are assigned to a project.
We want new eyes and ears. We want to make sure that we get all the questions on the table, that we get all the answers and accelerator the fix as quickly as possible.
GUPTA: I know that open enrollment goes for six months, to the end of March.
SEBELIUS: It does.
GUPTA: But when will this be fixed?
SEBELIUS: Well, as quickly as we can get it fixed. I — I think I can tell you, it’s improving every day, uh, and more people are getting through. More people are having an easier time and we intend to stay at this until we open the doors wide open.
GUPTA: And do — do we deserve a specific date?
I mean what — what can we tell people?
Because I mean there’s a — there’s a little bit of a loss of confidence in this. So if you say as quickly as possible, that meant October 1st.
SEBELIUS: Well, what we can tell you is that it isn’t where it needs to be. Uh, we are three weeks into a 26 week open enrollment period. People are enrolling everyday. Not as many as we would like, not at the volume we would like, and we will keep working on it until it is working as efficiently as possible.
In the meantime, go to the Web site, healthcare.gov, call the call center 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are individuals who can answer questions in 150 languages and actually help people enroll. Walk them through the enrollment that is available. And also navigators, the in-person trained assistants on the ground who can do the paper applications.
So we have a Web site, we have a call center where you can walk all the way through, get the product at the end of the day, and we have actual volunteers on the ground. So people have lots of options. And what we know in this three weeks has demonstrated clearly, millions of Americans want this product. Millions of Americans have waited a very long time, and we want to make sure that they, at the end of the day, get the health security that they want and deserve.
GUPTA: Let me just ask a couple more questions. I know our time is short, but the individual mandate. The concern is if there’s this idea that people had a hard time signing up and they didn’t get signed up for whatever reason on time, can they still be penalized? Can you penalize people if it was so cumbersome to get signed up in the first place?
SEBELIUS: Well, I think that the reality is that people, as I just said, can sign up any of three ways. And more are being able to do it everyday –
GUPTA: Does that mean the Web site’s not that important then?
SEBELIUS: It is a – it is certainly a tool, and we think it can be an easy tool for people who are tech-savvy and want to use a Web site. And we’re determined that it be a lot easier than it is right now.
What I know, though, and – is that lots of people, and people I talk to everyday, are not tech-savvy. Want a live human being to sit and answer questions. Want to talk to someone over the phone, want to talk to their friends and neighbors about what health care providers in their network, and then go back and ask them questions.
So, we anticipated at the outset that everyone would never use the Web site. That needs to be part of the opportunity. The market is at the end of the day what it is. This isn’t a Web site. It’s about health care and about affordable plans.
GUPTA: So – yes or no, is there any way that the individual mandate would be delayed?
SEBELIUS: Well, I don’t think that that really is the question right now. The issue is will people be able to sign up for affordable health care in the six months’ open enrollment period? And I think the answer is absolutely yes.
If we are going to make sure that the law works, making insurance companies provide coverage to everyone without regard to preexisting conditions, you need everybody to come into the pool. You need to make sure that it’s people who both have a preexisting condition and those who don’t. So at the end of the day, we need people to sign up. And I think we’ve got a lot of ways that they can.
The Web site needs to get better. That’s a focus, and we will deliver on that.
GUPTA: The president’s legacy is part of this whole issue as well. I mean, has it been tarnished by what has happened?
SEBELIUS: I think that what we need to do is – is – see the enrollment figures at the end of March 2014. That’s when open enrollment ends, and what I know from what we’re seeing in not only states that are run by the federal Web site, but states around the country is that the interest issues (ph) that people are eager to have this affordable product. And the product is there. Insurance companies have to compete for one another, for people’s business for the first time.
Janice Baker, who was with the president yesterday, was the first person to sign up from Delaware –
GUPTA: Took her a few days, she said.
SEBELIUS: She said she was frustrated a few days. The great news for Janice is she’ll have coverage on day one, as will somebody like Janice who signs up on December 15, have coverage day one.
So we’re going to keep focusing to make the Web site work better, but millions of Janices all over this country are going to save money. She’s saving $150 a month. She has a lower deductible, and she is thrilled with the notion that now as a small business owner, she doesn’t have to worry that she’s going to be priced out of the insurance market.
GUPTA: Well, I’m anxious to see how many more Janices there are out there –
SEBELIUS: You bet.
GUPTA: — look forward to those numbers. Thank you, Madame Secretary.
GUPTA: Appreciate it.
SEBELIUS: Great to be with you.