Head Of Medicare, Medicaid Back On Capitol Hill For Health Law Hearing

The Senate grills the Obama administration officials being held responsible for the rocky rollout of the Affordable Care Act's federal health insurance marketplace.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish in California this week.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block in Washington where it was another day of tough questions and testimony on Capitol Hill about the Affordable Care Act. Marilyn Tavenner, who has overseen the bumpy rollout of the program, testified before the Senate Health Committee. She said the Healthcare.gov website is getting better every day.

NPR's Tamara Keith is at the Capitol.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: From start to finish, this was a hearing about the people affected by the new healthcare law. It was about Bonnie and Betty and Thomas and Justin. It was senators and their anecdotes.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

SENATOR TAMMY BALDWIN: I heard from Carl and Bonnie, who own a farm in Hayward, Wisconsin, which is...

SENATOR TOM HARKIN: Mr. Streeter(ph) couldn't find affordable insurance in the individual market.

SENATOR RICHARD BURR: Their annual healthcare payment would almost double from 14,000 to 24,000.

KEITH: Those were Senators Tammy Baldwin, Tom Harkin and Richard Burr. From Democrats, there were stories of people who had been denied coverage in the past finally being able to sign up for affordable insurance. And from Republicans, there were stories of people who wanted to keep their plans being forced to switch to new more expensive health coverage. And then there was this Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.

SENATOR TIM SCOTT: The case starts with Justin Hadley(ph) from North Carolina attempting on October the 1 to get Obamacare.

KEITH: Scott says Hadley went on Healthcare.gov, but didn't succeed. On Halloween, he was trying again when he saw two links. Scott says Hadley got quite a surprise when he clicked on one of them.

SCOTT: The linked document was an eligibility notice to Mr. Dugal(ph) in South Carolina, including Mr. Dugal's name, his address and his eligibility for subsidies.

KEITH: Yes. A total stranger's personal information. Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who's overseeing Obamacare implementation, was the only witness at today's hearing. She acknowledged the problem.

MARILYN TAVENNER: We have reached out to Mr. Dugal several times and we will find him and we will follow up on his question.

SCOTT: I'm happy to give you his phone numbers.

TAVENNER: I think we have them. Thank you, though.

SCOTT: He doesn't think so, actually, because no one's called him.

TAVENNER: Well, we have a disagreement there.

SCOTT: Yes, ma'am.

KEITH: As the saying goes, the plural of an anecdote is not data, but Scott says the public's trust has been broken as a result of incidents like this.

SCOTT: Their confidence is going down and we're only trying to make sure that we alert ya'll to the fact that if any aspect of it doesn't work, then the confidence is gone.

KEITH: But it wasn't just Republicans like Scott who have long been critical of the healthcare law sounding the alarm.

SENATOR BARBARA MIKULSKI: There's been a crisis of confidence created in the dysfunctional nature of the website, the cancelling of policies, and sticker shock from some people.

KEITH: Senator Barbara Mikulski is Maryland Democrat.

MIKULSKI: What I worry about is that there's such a crisis of confidence people won't enroll.

KEITH: Tavenner's response? There's a plan for reaching out to folks once the website is in better shape. But she insisted Healthcare.gov is currently working.

TAVENNER: And I would encourage folks if they've not been on the website in the last few days to please go on the website. It has improved.

KEITH: Tavenner says in recent days more people have been able to complete applications. We won't know how many until next week when her agency releases its first enrollment data for October. For many in Congress, this information can't come soon enough. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol.

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