U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas today called for the resignation of Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, the former Kansas governor who is overseeing what has proven to be a rocky roll-out of the Affordable Care Act's online insurance marketplace.
The online marketplace, sometimes called the "exchange" — a cornerstone of President Barack Obama's health reform initiative — has so far failed to handle what the administration calls "overwhelming interest" by millions of consumers attempting to shop for coverage.
Eleven days after the marketplace's launch, problems persist in Kansas and other states that opted to allow the federal government to design and operate their systems. Many of the states that set up their own exchanges are experiencing fewer problems.
"How long do we let this failed exchange continue to operate?" Roberts wrote in a press release issued this afternoon. "The problems with the exchanges are systematic, profound and indisputable.
"This week, Sebelius continued wasting taxpayer dollars on advertising and promotional tours. This included failed rallies at NFL stadiums and appearances on comedy shows to promote enrollment while at the same time, Americans were unable to sign up for healthcare plans as promised. Even Jon Stewart didn't think it was a laughing matter," he wrote.
Indeed, Stewart — host of the left-leaning political commentary program, The Daily Show — grilled Sebelius in an Oct. 7 interview, asking her repeatedly why the law's mandate that individuals purchase insurance by 2014 (or face a tax penalty) wasn't delayed a year along with the delay of a comparable mandate for large businesses.
"The good news is you don't have to buy it today. You have to have insurance by the 15th of December to have a plan that starts in January," Sebelius told Stewart. "We know about 6 out of 10 people will get a policy for under $100 a month, which never happened before. Insurance companies can't turn anybody away with a pre-existing condition."
Officials in the HHS media office didn’t immediately respond to a request for a response.
Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project, a foundation-funded initiative to educate consumers and businesses about the health reform law, said he also is concerned about the problems that continue to frustrate consumers attempting to purchase coverage in the Kansas marketplace. But he said, "I don’t know that calling for Secretary Sebelius’ resignation is a solution to the problem.”
Roberts worked as an aide to Secretary Sebelius' late father in law, U.S. Rep. Keith Sebelius, before succeeding him in Congress. That connection made him among the most enthusiastic supporters of her nomination for the HHS post.
“It is a special and great opportunity for a Kansan to be represented as a member of the President's Cabinet, and I want to thank President Obama for nominating our Governor for this very important position,” Roberts said at the outset of Sebelius’ confirmation hearing on March 31, 2009.
Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, one of the few Republican office holders in Kansas to support the health reform law and Sebelius’ efforts to implement it, couldn’t be reached for comment. Praeger has served as the state’s chief insurance regulator since Sebelius left the post in 1998 to run for governor.
In his call for Sebelius' resignation, Roberts said "Americans are tired of the Sebelius spin."
"We need a Secretary who can admit when enough is enough," he wrote. "In the absence of a full repeal of Obamacare, which is my preference, we need new leadership from top to bottom. I am calling on the Secretary to resign."<br clear="all" />
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