Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday heads to Capitol Hill to make the case for her agency's proposed 2015 budget -- including the millions it is asking for to continue implementing the Affordable Care Act.
Sebelius' appearance before the House Ways and Means Committee comes at a critical juncture for the health care law -- Americans have fewer than 20 days left to enroll in a health insurance plan on the new Obamacare marketplaces.
The secretary announced Tuesday that about 4.2 million Americans had signed up for an Obamacare plan by the end of February. While the administration says it's satisfied with the pace of enrollment, the early, significant technical problems with HealthCare.gov and other Obamacare sites clearly slowed down the process. That leaves the administration well below its 2014 goal of 7 million Obamacare enrollees, with just weeks left to get people to sign up. Meanwhile, the administration has said it is still working on constructing some backend portions of HealthCare.gov, the federally-run website that serves as the Obamacare portal for 36 states.
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To keep up HealthCare.gov's construction and maintenance and continue consumer outreach, among other things, the administration is requesting about $600 million in new funds for 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported. The administration expects the continued Obamacare rollout will cost about $1.8 billion but that $1.2 billion will come from Obamacare taxes and fees.
Members of the House Ways and Means Committee are sure to grill Sebelius about whether its Affordable Care Act budget is being put to good use.
"We also must ask difficult questions about HHS' troubled efforts to implement the Affordable Care Act," Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said in a statement. "Open enrollment is almost over, enrollment is behind schedule and the website is not completed. Most importantly, the American people are facing higher premiums, fewer health care choices and a loss of wages - the exact opposite of what they need in a tough economy."
While federal officials are closely monitoring HealthCare.gov ahead of the enrollment deadline, officials in several states are grappling with their own last-minute Obamacare concerns.
inspecting Maryland's state-run Obamacare marketplace at his request. The state's spending on its marketplace is expected to reach $260 million, most of which will be paid for by federal grants, but the program has nevertheless been plagued with problems.
Meanwhile, in Hawaii, state lawmakers are considering imposing a fee on insurers that do not participate in the state-run Obamacare marketplace to help pay for the financially-struggling program. According to the HHS data released Tuesday, there are 10,968 Hawaiians eligible for Obamacare coverage, and of those people, 4,661 had enrolled in a plan as of the end of February.
The most Obamacare sign-ups, the HHS data shows, are in California, Texas and Florida. Texas and Florida are both relying on the federal government to run their marketplaces, while California is running its own. California has managed to sign up as many as 868,936 enrollees by the end of February in spite of its own occasional website problems.