House Ways and Means Congressional Hearing on ACA’s Website Woes Tackles Broader Policy Questions

The House Committee on Ways and Means held an oversight hearing on Tuesday, October 29, during which they took the testimony of Marilyn Tavenner, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). While the ostensible purpose of the hearing was to evaluate technical issues Healthcare.gov has faced since its launch on October 1 and what CMS is doing to address them, committee members quickly broadened its scope to discuss other ACA-related issues.

For example, Committee Chairman Dave Camp in his opening statement included a litany of what he feels are the long-term problems with the Affordable Care Act that “can’t be fixed.” Ranking Member Sandy Levin followed with his opening statement, arguing that Congressional Republicans don’t want to make this law work, have tried to derail the law in a number of ways,  and have now moved on “to fight this war on another front” with attacks on Healthcare.gov. Other minority committee members concurred, urging fellow committee members not to: “fixate on the website [but] fix the website.”

In her opening remarks, Administrator Tavenner tried to assure the committee and the public that the problems with the website were “fixable” and pledged that CMS will build a website that fully delivers on the ACA’s promise. While the website has had multiple problems, Tavenner stressed that the Affordable Care Act, as an overall product, has delivered on its promise to provide “quality, affordable health insurance.”

Administrator Tavenner and a number of committee members reminded the committee of the bigger picture: That the ACA is not a website but a set of policies to deliver a more competitive marketplace for health insurance, enabling millions who could either not afford health insurance or were just flat out denied health insurance due to a pre-existing condition to gain access to affordable, comprehensive insurance. A number of committee members used the hearing as an opportunity to draw attention to policy “cancellation notices” that their constituents have received from their insurance carriers in recent weeks. Tavenner acknowledged that insurance companies are transitioning people to new policies, but reminded the Committee that plan modification is nothing new, just as CHIR faculty members Sabrina Corlette and Kevin Lucia blogged earlier this week.

This hearing, as with other recent hearings on the ACA, turned into a debate of the ultimate merits of the ACA. Given the tenacity with which each side of the aisle is trying to influence the law’s future, this contest is likely to continue.

 

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