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Sebelius During Obamacare Grilling: 'Don't Do This To Me' - VIDEO

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Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius faced a thorough grilling from the House Energy and Commerce Committee over the bumpy rollout of The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the online federal health-care exchange. Despite Sebelius's repeated assertion that she was ultimately responsible for any failures with the ACA, Republican Representative Greg Harper (R-MI) pushed Sebelius, trying to get her to pin the responsibility on President Obama, Mediaite reports:

Mss"I appreciate you accepting responsibility for these initial rollout failures that we’ve had,” Harper began. “But who is ultimately responsible? It is the president, correct?”

“No, sir,” Sebelius said. “We are responsible for the rollout…He’s the president of the United States. I have given him regular reports. I am responsible for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. That’s what he asked me to do.”

“I think it’s great that you’re a team player and taking responsibility,” Harper said after several similar attempts, and then repeated: “It is the president’s ultimate responsibility, correct?”

“You clearly—whatever,” Sebelius said. “Yes, he is the president. He is responsible for government programs.”

The comment quickly caught fire on Twitter, with #whatever beginning to trend almost immediately after Sebelius made her remarks.

Mediaite also points out that Sebelius drew the ire of Colorodan congressman Cory Gardner (R) who, referring to his own family losing their health coverage, demanded,  “Why aren’t you losing your health insurance? Why aren’t you in the exchange?”:

Colo"When Sebelius explained that she’s part of the federal employees benefit plan, Gardner pushed harder: “You’re literally in charge of this law. Should you be any different than any of the other Americans out there who are losing their insurance today?”

After some more pressing, Sebelius told the congressman: “I am not eligible for the exchange.”

A baffled Gardner replied: “I went into the exchange. You could decide to drop your coverage of your employer. You have the choice.”

“That is not true, sir,” the HHS secretary responded. “If I have affordable coverage in my workplace, I am not eligible to go into the workplace.”

“With all due respect,” Gardner fired back, “I would encourage you to be just like the American people and enter the exchange and agree to find a way to do that.” Applause broke out in the gallery among several members.

“It’s illegal,” the administration official responded.

Following this line of questioning, Sebelius was caught saying, "Don't do this to me" to a colleague at the table with her during a brief break. It appears that Secretary Sebelius was not aware the comment was being picked up by her mic and it is not clear what specifically she was referencing, as Business Insider notes.

Watch videos of some of the more memorable exchanges from today's hearings
AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Sebelius During Obamacare Grilling: 'Don't Do This To Me' - VIDEO" »


'Tech Surge' to Clean Up Embarrassing Obamacare Site Launch as President Plans Remarks

In a blog post yesterday, the Department of Health and Human Services admitted that the launch of the main website for the Affordable Care Act has been dismal:

HealthcareUnfortunately, the experience on HealthCare.gov has been frustrating for many Americans.  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. We are committed to doing better.

HHS says it plans a "tech surge" to clean up the operation:

To ensure that we make swift progress, and that the consumer experience continues to improve, our team has called in additional help to solve some of the more complex technical issues we are encountering.

Our team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve HealthCare.gov.  We're also putting in place tools and processes to aggressively monitor and identify parts of HealthCare.gov where individuals are encountering errors or having difficulty using the site, so we can prioritize and fix them.  We are also defining new test processes to prevent new issues from cropping up as we improve the overall service and deploying fixes to the site during off-peak hours on a regular basis.

They're also asking for input. Go to the site for details.

President Obama plans to address the technical problems with Healthcare.gov today at an event from the Rose Garden.

Obama will be flanked at the Rose Garden event by people the White House says have already enrolled during the first three weeks of sign-ups. Enrollment figures are being closely guarded by the administration, which plans to release the first round of data in mid-November.


White House Photo Of The Day Commemorates World AIDS Day

WhiteHouseAIDSDay

From the White House comes this picture of the president's abode being adorned in the red AIDS ribbon for World AIDS Day.

President Obama released a statement about the annual event, saying, "Creating an AIDS-free generation is a shared responsibility… Working together, we can realize our historic opportunity to bring that fight to an end."

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' also struck an optimistic tone: "When the first World AIDS Day was observed in 1988, we could not imagine the end of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. For those diagnosed with HIV infection, the future was bleak. This year, the picture is very different." 

She went on: "This year, the picture is very different. Scientific advances in understanding HIV, and an increasing number of treatment options, are turning the tide for millions of people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and around the world. We are greatly encouraged by evidence that new HIV infections have declined by 50 percent or more in 25 low and middle income countries."


HHS: Federal Health Care Programs Barred from Discriminating Against Transgender People

Buzzfeed reports on "a sweeping decision" from the Department of Health and Human Services:

SebeliusIn response to a letter sent by a dozen LGBT health and advocacy organizations to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in June, Leon Rodriguez — the director of HHS's Office for Civil Rights — wrote on July 12 HHS considers discrimination based on "gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity" in federal health programs or activities receiving funding under Affordable Care Act-covered programs to be illegal.

In the letter, obtained by BuzzFeed, Rodriguez agreed with the groups' assessment that the prohibition on sex discrimination in Obama's health care law prohibited discrimination against transgender people and stated that his office would investigate any complaints of such discrimination.

Referring to a recent survey, National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Mara Keisling told BuzzFeed that 20 percent of transgender people report being turned away from a health-care provider for being transgender.

"That's illegal now," she said.


HHS Secretary Announces Four Public-Private Initatives to Help Americans Living with HIV/AIDS

Aidsmarch
(luna media group)

On Sunday night at the International AIDS Conference, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced four public-private initatives to help those living with HIV/AIDS, the Washington Blade reports:

SebeliusSebelius announced the projects — including a new $4.5 million multi-year project with the MAC AIDS Fund called the Care for Life Initiative — during remarks she delivered as the final speaker on the opening night of the 19th International AIDS Conference, which is being held in the United States for the first time since 1990. An estimated 25,000 are in attendance for the week-long conference in D.C...

...Besides the Care for Life Initiative, Sebelius also hit on the other three initiatives during her remarks. With the pharmaceutical retailer Walgreens, she announced a three-year partnership with the Centers for Disease Control to explore ways in which pharmacies can help patients stay on their medications. According to a news statement, Walgreens is supplying nearly $1 million in in-kind services for this initiative.

With Medscape, a leading provider of online continuing education for U.S. clinicians, Sebelius unveiled partnership training programs with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid to help clinicians better understand and address HIV patients’ needs. According to a news statement, three new training modules have already been created for physicians, nurses and other medical professionals.

Finally, Sebelius announced that HHS is partnering with the eight largest AIDS drug companies — Abbot Laboratories, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol Myers Squibb, Gilead, Genentech, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and ViiV — to create a single application form for AIDS medications offered through their patient assistance programs.

Many more details at the Blade...

In other news, more than 1,000 marched in D.C. ahead of the conference, the AP reports:

Organizers said the aim of the "Keep the Promise" march was to remind world leaders and policymakers that AIDS remains a threat to global health. Marchers used red umbrellas to create a human red ribbon in advance of the march. Some carried balloons in the shape of globes as they marched, and others carried signs that read "Test & Treat Now" and "Yes We Can Control AIDS." The marchers stretched for more than a block, with bands and cheerleaders among the group.

AIDS is seen at a turning point, the AP adds:

The conference’s goal is to turn the tide on HIV. Experts say science has provided tools to finally stem the spread of this intractable virus. San Francisco AIDS specialist Dr. Diane Havlir said it would be “an extraordinary failure of global will and conscience” if financial cutbacks block this chance.

She said the world has a chance to “start to end AIDS.”

“There is no excuse, scientifically, to say we cannot do it,” Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, told reporters Sunday.


The White House's Charm Offensive

Picture 30The White House is organizing a tour to reach out to LGBT Americans around the country. From the Obama administration's Office of Communications:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The White House Office of Public Engagement (OPE) will partner with key Departments and Agencies to host a series of conferences around the country specifically focused on LGBT Americans.  From February to June 2012, OPE will convene these White House LGBT Conferences to provide grassroots leaders, community organizers, advocates, students, and interested citizens an opportunity to hear directly from the Administration on our efforts to ensure health, well-being, security, justice, and equality for LGBT Americans.

So -- agencies responsible for housing, health, whathaveyou will partner with the OPE, rent a hall, roll into town, and talk to you. The first engagement of the administration's charm offensive will take place in Philly on February 16th, and shall feature Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Venue TBA, and ditto with subsequent engagements -- though the press release promises sessions devoted to "Housing & Homelessness, Safe Schools & Communities, and HIV/AIDS Prevention."

By the way -- the press release went out over email. I tried and failed to find the original announcement at whitehouse.gov. If you should come across it, please do post the link.


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