Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said the following today before the House of Representatives Ways & Means Committee hearing focused on the mountain of troubles Healthcare.gov has had since launching on the first of this month:
We know that consumers are eager to purchase this coverage. And to the millions of Americans who have attempted to use Healthcare.gov to shop and enroll in healthcare coverage, I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should.
Some have had trouble creating accounts and logging in to the site, while others have received confusing error messages, or had to wait for slow page loads or forms that failed to respond in a timely fashion. The initial consumer experience of HealthCare.gov has not lived up to the expectations of the American people and is not acceptable.
This had the makings of a good apology. But…
Besides actually uttering the word “sorry,” an apology should acknowledge the role you’ve played in the wrongdoing that has occurred, ensure that it never happens again, and convey sincerity, demonstrating that you really understand why there’s been an issue and care that people have been affected. It puts everyone back on the same page and, when you’re apologizing to people who really want to move past whatever has happened, it wipes the slate clean so progress can be made.
While she expressed regret and sympathy, ultimately, Tavenner blamed a “subset” of contractors for the problems with the site, citing the fact that in the past, the agency has worked with outside consultants without incident.
Moreover, she said, demand taxed the system, which had undergone changes shortly before it went live for the public. More than 700,000 people have created accounts on state and federal exchanges. (When asked how many people had completely enrolled, she shied away from an answer, promising numbers in mid-November.) The technical problems, according to Jeffrey Zients, an Obama advisor in charge of cleaning up this mess, will be fixed by the end of November.
These comments are in line with what the HHS said last week and with testimony that’s been submitted by her boss, Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who will testify tomorrow before the Energy and Commerce Committee. So everyone is on the same page.
Irrespective of demand (which they should’ve expected) and the contractors, the government was managing this project. So all of that is an excuse, not an explanation.
But this situation is complicated by politics. Republicans don’t want this law to exist, so there’s nothing that can be said to erase the mistake. “The problems with Obamacare transcend the Web site or one office within HHS,” said Megan Whittemore, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). “Tavenner’s recent appointment was encouraging, but this law is unfixable.” This may be why they felt the need to pass the buck.
But the CMS and HHS aren’t apologizing to Congress. They’re apologizing to the public, which, judging by the demand, wants the site, and the law, to work. The public has proven time and again that it will accept a sincere apology, no excuses necessary.