'Train Wreck Coming': Sebelius Can't Give Sen. Baucus Details on Obamacare Launch

April 18, 2013 - 10:40 AM

Sebelius

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies on Capitol Hill. (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius couldn't give specific answers to simple questions about the implementation of Obamacare.

Committee chair Max Baucus -- a Democrat who helped write the bill -- told the secretary he sees a "train wreck coming."

"I mean, you need data...you've never given me any data, you just give me concepts, frankly. And government's not a business, but you're going to have to have some data -- benchmarks -- to figure out what progress you are or are not making," Baucus said.

Sebelius said there are "some very specific benchmarks around open enrollment," a reference the health care exchanges where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for and compare health insurance plans.

She said the Health and Human Services Department has a "campaign and a plan to lead up to open enrollment."

"What is it? The campaign and the plan?" Baucus interrupted.

"Well, Mr. Chairman, as we have discussed, there will be people on the ground, starting this summer."

"How many?" Baucus asked.

"Um, I can't tell you at this point."

"At what point in the summer?"

"Um..."

"Geographically, what states? This is the kind of information I'm asking for," Baucus said. "You're only going to be able to do a decent job if you know the answer to these questions."

A few minutes earlier, Baucus told Sebelius that small business owners have no idea what to expect from Obamacare.

"They don't know what the affordability rules are. They don't know what penalties may apply. They just don't know. I was talking to one CPA, you know, he's not histrionic, he's just straight with me. He said, 'Max, I gotta tell ya. My clients, small buinsess peole, are just (ready to) throw their hands up, and I don't know what to tell them.' And that's just from the small business perspective."

Baucus said people are confused.

"I just have to tell ya -- I just see a huge train wreck coming down. And I've discussed this many times, and I don't see the results yet."

Sebelius, in response, expressed disappointment that the continuing resolution of 2013 (which funds the government in the absense of appropriations bills) did not include additional funds for outreach and education. "Having said that, we have engagedvin efforts with the small business administration, who is doing regular meetings around the country with our regional personnel."

Sebelius also talked about "on the ground navigators," people who will be trained to answer questions about navigating the health care exchanges.

Open enrollment begins on Oct. 1 and enrollment begins on Jan. 1.