It was a fitting, if sad, farewell for Secretary Sebelius: As she was giving her resignation speech alongside President Obama she realized that it was missing a page.
Immediately after saying how much she appreciated the opportunity to implement a bill like Obamacare, which she called “the most meaningful work of my life,” Sebelius was forced to stop.
“Unfortunately, a page is missing,” Sebelius said.
And with that last glitch, the Obama Administration official who came to be the face of the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov was gone. Sebelius was undoubtedly a victim of circumstance – she was tasked with the job of implementing an inherently flawed piece of legislation. But whether through hubris or ineptitude, she brought a fair share of the trouble onto herself.
The main example was her unwillingness to be frank with Americans about the problems with Obamacare and just how unprepared the White House was for the law to go live.
“As I answered before, congressman, we will be open for open enrollment Oct. 1. We are on track to meet the Oct. 1 deadline,” Sebelius told Rep. Kevin Brady on April 12.
And even when the website proved to be a spectacular (and spectacularly expensive) flop, Sebelius just couldn’t bring herself to admit the real problems
“But it’s sort of a great problem to have,” Sebelius said of HealthCare.gov crashing. “It’s based on the fact that the volume is so high and the interest is so high.”
Only weeks later, when the lie had thoroughly been debunked and there was nowhere to hide from the flawed website, was she willing to admit the problem.
“We didn’t have enough testing, specifically for high volumes, for a very complicated project. We had two years and almost no testing,” Sebelius told The Wall Street Journal on Oct. 18.
But that doesn’t mean the website wasn’t tested. Indeed, as the Washington Post reported, a group of 10 insurers were convened to test the website before its release. The Post stated, “about a month before the exchange opened, this testing group urged agency officials not to launch it nationwide because it was still riddled with problems.”
Secretary Sebelius refused to listen. Later analysis revealed that the problems with the rollout ran deep, including refusing to let anyone with true technical know-how manage the project, delaying writing regulations to avoid political problems, and engaging in minimal oversight over the myriad contractors responsible for writing the website’s code.
Even then, Secretary Sebelius couldn’t give up the ghost.
“The assessment we have made is that it will take to the end of November for an optimally performing website,” Sebelius testified before Congress.
Of course that proved to be untrue. Technology specialists at the time said that “as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten,” which would take until late December at the earliest. But even that would prove to be optimistic. In mid-November, a top technology official in the Obama Administration testified that repairs to the website were ongoing, but as much as 40 percent of the code for the backend of the website hadn’t even been written yet.
The last few months haven’t been much better. She’s attempted to defend President Obama’s statement that if you like your health care plan, you can keep it; has answered questions about the public’s view of Obamacare with blank silence; and has refused to answer simple questions about the number of people who have actually enrolled in an insurance plan through the exchange.
As if to acknowledge the lack of leadership and skill that Secretary Sebelius demonstrated, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said of her replacement: “The president wants to make sure we have a proven manager and relentless implementer in the job over there.” Two things, sadly, that Sebelius was not. And America is worse off for it.