There are about six weeks left for uninsured Americans to sign up for new health insurance policies on the state and federal exchanges if they want coverage to begin on January 1, 2014. Pressure is mounting on the federal exchanges to do what the states have already managed to do: create a glitch-free, easy application experience for those trying to compare and purchase plans online. So far the failures of Healthcare.gov, the federal exchange portal, have been public and embarrassing. They’ve also been gleefully bandied about by Republican politicians who opposed health care reform from the start.
As the site continues to lag behind expectations, it’s Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius who is shouldering most of the blame. Some of the criticism lobbed at Secretary Sebelius during a recent Congressional hearing on the ACA site issues may be merited, and she took full and immediate responsibilities for the shortcomings. “Access to HealthCare.gov has been a miserably frustrating experience for way too many Americans,” she said in her opening statement, according to the Washington Post. “So let me say directly to these Americans: You deserve better. I apologize. I’m accountable to you for fixing these problems. And I’m committed to earning your confidence back by fixing the site.”
Her admission did little to deflect the GOP members of the panel from their mission to attack the Secretary, the administration and the Affordable Care Act all together. As part of the hearing, a number of the anti-abortion politicians already planned to repeatedly question Secretary Sebelius over some of the plans in the exchanges allowing abortion coverage, a “be transparent” talking point prepared to act as red meat for their anti-choice backers.
That abortion was going to be a key element of the hearing itself was well-known by everyone in the chamber. In fact, a lawmaker was heard in the background saying, “Oh, here we go,” once Rep. John Shimkus (R – Ill.) uttered the words, “If someone, a constituent of mine or someone in this country has strongly held pro-life views can you commit to us to make sure that the federal exchanges that offer that are clearly identified so people can understand if they’re going to buy a policy that has abortion coverage or not?”
Abortion being covered in a number of plans shouldn’t be surprising, since abortion was traditionally offered in most private insurance plans as a preventative service. In fact, it was because of the Affordable Care Act that a number of states wrote laws blocking abortion care in their plans. That move now has caused more plans to eliminate coverage on their own. “We had heard that some plans are saying that they are not going to offer [abortion coverage] now because they have so much to figure out and this little extra administrative activity they have to be involved in is something they want to figure out when things calm down a little,” Judy Waxman of the National Women’s Law Center told NPR.
The far right GOP congressional push to force Secretary Sebelius to talk about abortion during the hearing served two purposes when it came to appeasing the faction’s extreme anti-abortion base. Not only could they give the appearance that they were still waging the battle for unborn babies, they could also take a moment to publicly harass the Secretary, whom many of the anti-choice activists still revile for blocking their attempts to put Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller out of work or, in their favorite scenario, in jail.
Was last week’s panel really meant to probe into the issues that existed with Healthcare.gov and find a way to correct them? Or was it just another dog and pony show for Republicans to show their base that they are doing something, even if that “something” is exactly what they’ve been doing for years — stubbornly opposing the Obama administration without offering any solutions of their own.
Whatever their purpose, and despite their blustering, new coverage under the exchanges should go into effect on January 1. When that happens, we will see less cases like Richard Streeter, who was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer that could have been treated if it had just been detected earlier. There will be less people like Diane Barrette, who according to Consumer Reports was basically paying $50 a month for the privilege of being essentially still uninsured. More people will wake up on New Year’s Day able to get preventative care or see doctors for the first time in months or years, with or without consumer site issues. The GOP can run as many hearings as they wish, but they still can’t stop any of that from happening.