President Obama said Monday ‘nobody’s madder than me’ about the
problems with HealthCare.gov. But he didn’t mention Health and Human
Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who faces calls for her
By Linda Feldmann
WASHINGTON — President Obama didn’t surprise anyone with his
expression of frustration Monday over the troubled rollout of his
signature policy achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
In Rose Garden remarks, Mr. Obama highlighted the benefits of the law,
which will allow many Americans unable to buy health insurance to get
coverage. The president was flanked by people who have enrolled in the program, or plan to, as well as people helping consumers learn about
But it’s the massive problems with HealthCare.gov, the federal
insurance marketplace that is handling enrollment for 36 states, that
have made headlines. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been
unable even to get to Step 1 on the site. Obama laid out alternative
ways to enroll, including by telephone.
“Nobody’s madder than me about the fact that the website isn’t working
as well as it should, which means it’s going to get fixed,” he said.
Noticeably absent from Obama’s remarks was any mention of Kathleen
Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services since the start of
his administration and his top advocate for the law. (She was seated
in the front row at Obama’s Rose Garden statement, not up at the
podium with him.) Over the weekend, as HHS was putting out word that
it was bringing in “the best and brightest” to implement a “tech
surge” to fix HealthCare.gov, numerous Republican senators called for
The GOP outpouring against Secretary Sebelius might in fact only cause
Obama to circle the wagons and keep her in her job, if he even has a
notion of letting her go. Plus, firing her at this crucial moment in
the Obamacare rollout doesn’t do anything to further his goal of
fixing the site as quickly as possible. The clock is ticking: Anyone
who wants his or her health coverage to begin on Jan. 1 must enroll by
Furthermore, finding a new HHS secretary and then getting that person
through a Senate confirmation would be a huge political challenge.
Still, the president faces growing embarrassment over the
problem-plagued rollout, and he may at some point feel the need to do
something dramatic to save public confidence in his new
Some 56 percent of Americans see the problems with HealthCare.gov as a
sign of broader problems with putting the law into effect, according
to an ABC News poll released Monday. Forty percent see the website
problems as an isolated incident.
Calls have also been increasing for Sebelius to testify before
Congress on the troubled rollout, and on Monday, an HHS spokeswoman
put out word that the secretary will testify soon before the House
Committee on Energy and Commerce.
“We fully intend for the Secretary and other HHS officials to testify
before Congress as early as next week, as they have numerous times in
the past, but nothing is confirmed at this time,” HHS’s Joanne Peters
said in a statement. “We have always indicated to the committee that
she intended to testify but that she had a scheduling conflict. We
continue to work with them to find a mutually agreeable date in the
In an interview last week with The Wall Street Journal, Sebelius made
clear she won’t resign.
“It’s tough to take these shots,” she said. “But I will take them
until we get this right.”
Sebelius also acknowledged that the problems with HealthCare.gov are
more than just “glitches,” adding that the site did not undergo
adequate testing before the rollout, particularly for such high
volumes of traffic.
Republicans, meanwhile, are piling on, and now that the government
shutdown is over, they have a clearer shot at driving home their
message that Obamacare is a “disaster.” That point is laden with
irony, given that it was the Republicans who drove the shutdown by
linking new government funding and a higher debt ceiling to an effort
to defund Obamacare, a move that many Republicans now say was
On Monday, the Republican National Committee sent a Freedom of
Information Act request to the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid
Services requesting information on the number of Americans who have
enrolled so far via HealthCare.gov. Democrats call it a stunt.
The Obama administration says it plans to release numbers on a monthly
basis, beginning in mid-November.