In our opinion: Sebelius should testify now

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 22 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Give the serious nature of the problems concerning Obamacare's website, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius should visit Congress this week, not next, to explain what is going on.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

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Kathleen Sebelius now says she will be happy to explain to Congress why the website the government set up to handle registrations under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has not worked and may be hopelessly inadequate. But the secretary of Health and Human Services says she will do so when her office and Congress can find a “mutually agreeable date.”

Interestingly, she has found time to appear on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, but the schedule seems so tight when it comes to making an accounting before the nation’s elected representatives.

Arrogance is not a good tactic when members of both parties are demanding answers, and when some are openly calling for you to resign. Sebelius needs to come to Congress this Thursday. That is particularly important considering many Americans still are unable to sign up for Obamacare using healthcare.gov.

President Obama spoke publicly about these problems Monday. He reminded people that his health care program is more than just a website. People may have to sign up using old-fashioned pen and paper, he said.

But there is no denying the website malfunctions have harmed whatever trust people may have had in the Affordable Care Act. They are a symbol of the problems inherent with government-run systems as compared with the private sector.

Some experts say the problems lie in complicated software codes that could take a long time to fix. The administration is insisting it will not take the site off-line nor postpone the statutory March 31 deadline for signing up. But that is beginning to sound like a stubborn refusal to do what obviously needs to be done just because it would give new fuel to the law’s opponents.

The website’s problems may not fixable without taking it down and starting over. Given that the law requires all uninsured people to sign up or face fines, simply telling them they can sign up in other ways just adds to the confusion.

The administration said it would fix the problem by working on the site during off-peak hours. But neither the president nor Sebelius has yet to explain exactly what is causing the site to be unresponsive, other than to say there are problems with the design as well as the software. That sounds serious.

If, as the president says, there is no use any longer in hoping for Obamacare’s demise — and given the resounding failure of the recent partial government shutdown to defund the program, that is likely true — then it seems safe to postpone the inevitable full implementation of the program until all the problems have been resolved.

It’s hard to understand how a website so central to what the president calls his signature legislation could be botched so badly. We imagine the president is asking Sebelius some tough questions about that. The people’s representatives should be doing the same, and sooner rather than later.

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