I didn’t watch the testimony today of Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, before the House Ways and Means Committee. But according to this report from Politico’s David Nather, it did not go well for the Obama administration:
[Tavenner] apologized right away for the technological missteps that are preventing millions of Americans from using the federal enrollment website. That drew a vivid contrast with the contractors, who never showed any remorse.
But after that mea culpa, it was all downhill for Tavenner.
She didn’t have any answers for Republicans who wanted to know how many people have successfully enrolled in the Obamacare health insurance exchanges, including the federal one. She also couldn’t say how many young adults were in the mix or how the website can effectively warn adults under age 26 that they won’t get a subsidy because they can stay on their parents’ plans.
And she didn’t have a direct answer when Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) asked whether she could guarantee that no one would have a gap in their health insurance, if their old individual policies are being cancelled and they can’t sign up for a new one by Jan. 1.
According to Politico, cancelled polices quickly replaced the broken website as the main focus of the hearing:
One Republican after another read Tavenner letters from constituents who were losing their individual health plans and being told to switch to an Obamacare plan. That’s a clear violation, they said, of President Barack Obama’s promise that if people like their health plan, they can keep it.
“Can you understand the level of concern from Americans that this was a false claim? Diane knows exactly what kind of coverage she wants,” said Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), referring to a constituent with breast cancer who told him in a letter that the new coverage she was being offered would be twice as expensive as her old coverage.
Tavenner responded by urging anyone who gets a cancellation notice from their insurer to look at Obamacare plans to see if they can get a better deal, especially if they qualify for a subsidy. This testimony confirms “the truth of Obamacare,” namely that it is intended to force large numbers of people off of their current insurance and into the exchanges where, unless they get a subsidy, they will help subsidize insurance for others. Once the website is fixed, that is.
Politico finds that the Republican Committee members have their act together when it comes to formulating a coherent, multi-faceted attack on Obamacare:
The Republicans at the hearing cast a wider net than the website problems, but this time, it didn’t come off as just more unfocused anger at Obamacare. They were more methodical about raising other issues that could become problems down the road — and not just the cancellation notices.
[Rep. David] Camp told Tavenner he was worried that the website problems were discouraging young adults from enrolling, which could throw the demographic mix out of balance because healthy people are needed to help pay the costs of sick people. If the Obamacare plans don’t enroll enough young adults, “it’s very clear that the premiums will go through the roof, whether it’s in the next few months or in the future,” Camp said.
Naturally, Paul Ryan was among the most trenchant questioners:
Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) asked Tavenner how the website is verifying that young adults under age 26 don’t have access to a parents’ plan — because if they can stay on that plan, they wouldn’t qualify for subsidies if they enroll in an Obamacare plan.
If those young adults aren’t warned, Ryan said, they could face a nasty surprise at tax time when they find that they didn’t qualify for the subsidies and have to pay them back.
Tavenner couldn’t even say that personal information will be secure on the Obamacare website.
“Is the Obamacare website 100 percent safe from hackers who could steal Americans’ personal information, including Social Security numbers?” [Rep. Sam] Johnson asked.
Tavenner’s answer wasn’t exactly a direct yes or no: “We follow all the standards to protect personal information, including Social Security numbers.”
As for the Democratic members on the Committee, Politico found that they “wasted their time.”
Unlike the Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats — some of whom blasted the breakdowns as harshly as the Republicans did — the Ways and Means Democrats spent all of their time focusing on good news with Obamacare, like the state-run health exchanges that are successfully enrolling customers, and attacking the Republicans for trying to kill the law.
Some Democrats didn’t even ask Tavenner a question — they just used their time to make speeches and score points against the Republicans.
Bombast is the best defense of Obamacare. Rep. John Lewis supplied it:
The Georgia Democrat, a former civil rights leader, hasn’t lost any of the thundering cadences of his speeches from the civil rights era — and he used them to full effect Tuesday, as he challenged Tavenner to list all of the good things Americans will get out of the law.
“There has been a deliberate and systematic attempt … to make it impossible for people to receive quality, affordable health care. And some of us will not stand for it,” Lewis shouted in his booming voice, pounding the dais with his fist. “We will fight for what is right and what is fair and what is just.”
Unfortunately, for the Dems, Tavenner did not come up with a particularly impressive basket of Obamacare goodies:
Tavenner did the best she could. She cited a few talking points about the 6.6 million young adults who can stay on their parents’ plans, the 7.1 million seniors who are getting help with the “doughnut hole” in Medicare prescription drug coverage, and the slower growth in employers’ health insurance premiums.
And with that, all of the electricity left the room.