3/6/2014Before O-Care debacle, Sebelius made many trips to White House | TheHillhttp://thehill.com/blogs/healthwatch/health-reform-implementation/198296-before-o-care-debacle-sebelius-made-many-trips-to-white-house1/2
February 13, 2014, 06:00 am
Before O-Care debacle, Sebelius made many trips toWhite House
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was in frequent contact with President Obama and senior White House aides before thedisastrous launch of the federal ObamaCare exchange last year.While Sebelius has said the president was not aware of HealthCare.gov’s problems, more than 750 pages of documents obtained by The Hillthrough a Freedom of Information Act request show she made scores of visits to the White House.The documents reveal that Sebelius met with or attended calls and events with Obama at least 18 times between Oct. 27, 2012, and Oct. 6, 2013,including at least seven instances in which the two were scheduled to discuss the new healthcare law, according to the secretary’s draftschedules. She had breakfast or lunch with Pete Rouse, considered one of Obama’s closest advisers, at least three times. Moreover, Sebelius had scheduledcalls or meetings with Valerie Jarrett, an Obama confidante, and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.Sebelius also met with or had calls with Chris Jennings, then a White House senior healthcare adviser, at least seven times in the roughly yearlongperiod.The schedules suggest Sebelius was an active White House presence in the months leading up to the botched rollout, and raise new questionsabout why Obama wouldn’t have known about the problems that were exposed on Oct. 1.HHS said in a statement to The Hill that Sebelius is often on the White House grounds.“She is frequently at the White House for meetings on a wide range of topics, including the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. As we havealso said, the Affordable Care Act is more than just a website, and consistent with other significant policy initiatives, there was coordination acrossthe Administration on a broad range of policy and implementation topics,” said the agency.Since last fall, when lawmakers began calling for her ouster, Sebelius has maintained that Obama was in the dark about the glitches that plaguedHealthCare.gov.“No, sir,” Sebelius told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta on Oct. 22 when asked if the president knew of problems before the site’s launch.Obama has similarly said that he wasn’t aware of any issues.“On the website, I was not informed directly that the website would not be working the way it was supposed to. Had I been informed, I wouldn’t begoing out saying, boy, this is going to be great,” Obama said in a Nov. 14 press conference.HealthCare.gov was nearly unusable during its first month of existence, forcing Obama to appoint Jeff Zients to triage the website.Now that the site is functioning smoothly and the enrollment drive appears to be gaining momentum — the Health Department on Wednesday said3.3 million people have signed up for coverage so far — pressure on Obama to fire Sebelius has eased.Still, the president dodged last week when asked point-blank by Fox’s Bill O’Reilly whether Sebelius should be axed.