Misstating the health care law she is responsible for administering, Kathleen Sebelius has asserted that the law required health insurance sign-ups to start Oct. 1, whether the system was ready or not. In fact, the decision when to launch the sign-up website was hers. The troubled debut of the government's health insurance enrollment website has raised questions about whether its start date should have been delayed to allow testing and repairs before it went live. Asked last week whether that might have been the wiser course, Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, said that wasn't possible because the law required an Oct. 1 launch.
To deflect criticism about the law's woeful roll-out, Kathy's both blaming Republicans and pretending that October 1 was a locked-in, legally-mandated deadline. My hands were tied, she protests. But who did the tying?
In a visit to a community health center in Austin, Texas, on Friday, Sebelius acknowledged more testing would have been preferable. "In an ideal world there would have been a lot more testing, but we did not have the luxury of that and the law said the go-time was Oct. 1," she said. But the law imposed no legal requirement to open the website Oct 1. The law says only that the enrollment period shall be "as determined by the secretary." The launch date was set not in the law, but in regulations her department had issued. Agencies routinely allow themselves flexibility on self-imposed deadlines. Officials could have postponed open enrollment by a month, or they could have phased in access to the website.
Administration officials could have delayed this portion of the law, but that might have looked like a cave to Republicans, so that option was scratched off the list. Instead, they decided to cross their fingers, close their eyes, make a wish, and hope for the best. The best...hasn't panned out. (Remember, they've known this thing was on track to flop for months; as recently as very late September, a trial run of healthcare.gov went down in flames). What's ironic about Sebelius' erroneous comment is that her boss has displayed scant hesitancy in unilaterally delaying other portions of the law that actually are set in stone. In this case, the administration genuinely had some legal discretion to play with, but chose not to exercise it. Sebelius either doesn't realize this (head-spinning incompetence), or she's actively lying to cover her own ass. Neither infraction is worthy of firing, it would seem -- "full confidence," and all that. No, that level of accountability is reserved for the little people. I'll leave you with Carney tap-dancing around a tough question about another infamous Obamacare lie: