More information sought by Hagan on health care site
RALEIGH — North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan said Tuesday that she's seeking more answers about the poor rollout of the federal health insurance exchange. The Democrat is again trying to balance support for President Barack Obama's signature health overhaul law — which she voted for — while responding to constituent displeasure with it a year before her re-election bid.
Hagan told reporters she's asking Senate colleagues to sign a letter she drew up that seeks information from federal auditors about the run-up to the web portal's Oct. 1 launch. She wants to know more details about the dozens of contractors who worked on the project, how much they were paid and whether fixing problems will require more taxpayer dollars.
"These problems are simply unacceptable, and Americans deserve answers and swift solutions," Hagan wrote in the letter provided by her office. "Taxpayers are owed a full and transparent accounting of how the vendors contracted to build the site failed to launch it successfully."
The portal's shortcomings have made it nearly impossible for many of the uninsured to browse or enroll for insurance options at the federally-run exchange. "I share the frustration of so many people in North Carolina," Hagan said during a conference call, adding "North Carolinians deserve better."
Hagan has become more vocal over the past two weeks about the rollout, which Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius agreed was a "debacle." Hagan sidestepped a question about whether Sebelius should remain on the job, saying she now wants more information from the Government Accountability Office and the inspector general within HHS to find out what happened.
The letter also asks why it took so long for the primary contract to build the website to be awarded and what could be done to prevent future government information technology problems.
Hagan already asked the Obama administration to delay the open enrollment period expected to end March 31 by two months and has co-sponsored legislation that would force insurers to reinstate canceled policies. A wave of cancellation letters from health insurance companies are hitting mailboxes of people who buy their own plans appears to undercut Obama's comments that people who liked their coverage could keep it.
Hagan, one of 16 Senate Democrats who met last week with Obama to talk about the health care rollout, said Tuesday the overwhelmingly majority of Americans still continue to receive insurance outside of the exchange. She praised the 2010 health overhaul law for several provisions, including those that offer children coverage through their parents' policies up to age 26 and prevent cancellation of coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
"There are many, many benefits in the Affordable Care Act that I think (are) making a difference in the delivery of health care," she said.
Longtime state Democratic consultant Brad Crone said the one-term senator is really "having to thread the needle" when talking about the health care law.
"The last thing she wants to do is to have next year's campaign to be a referendum on the Affordable Care Act," Crone said in an interview. "She has to hold the White House accountable on the rollout and still embrace the Affordable Care Act to placate her base in the Democratic Party."
State Republican Party spokesman Daniel Keylin said in a release the letter was a "political stunt" and that Hagan should have questioned the health care law before the rollout. "No matter how desperate Kay Hagan gets in attempting to run away from the Obamacare disaster, North Carolinians know she owns it," he said.
The conservative-leaning Americans for Prosperity said last month it will spend $1.7 million on television ads critical of Hagan's support for the health care law. The Democratic-aligned political committee Senate Majority PAC countered last week with its own ads praising Hagan and suggesting the AFP ad is false.
Hagan's seat is considered one that Republicans need to flip in order to retake control of the Senate after the 2014 elections.