This story has been updated to include comment from HHS.
The leader of the House Republicans’ oversight operations announced he’d issued a subpoena on Thursday to compel Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to produce documents related to the troubled launch of the Obama administration’s online health insurance marketplace.
Sebelius hasn’t yet produced those documents in response to an Oct. 10 letter from House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
The subpoena gives Sebelius until Nov. 13 to produce documents that shed light on HealthCare.gov’s many glitches and why the site underwent just two weeks of end-to-end testing. Issa also wants to know how many people have enrolled in new health insurance plans through the online exchange since its Oct. 1 launch, a figure the administration has refused to reveal so far.
HHS Spokeswoman Joanne Peters said in an emailed statement that the agency is working diligently to fulfill the oversight committee’s requests but that committee members simply requested too many documents in too short a timeframe. HHS officials have told committee members several times that the agency plans to honor its requests and has cooperated in other ways, including by agreeing to interviews with committee staff and testifying at congressional hearings.
“We are disappointed that the committee believes a subpoena was necessary,” she said, “however it does not change our intent to continue to cooperate with them to produce documents as expeditiously as we are able to.”
In response to an earlier subpoena threat Peters noted that the oversight document request first arrived during the partial government shutdown when staff was not available to work on it.
Numerous glitches have kept the vast majority of insurance seekers from enrolling in plans through HealthCare.gov during the site’s first month online. Issa and other GOP leaders have claimed some of those glitches may have been caused by White House and other high-ranking officials exerting undue influence on the site’s building and contracting process, including a late decision to bar people from anonymously shopping for insurance on the site without first registering.
The government has embarked on a “tech surge,” which Sebelius and other officials say will have the site operating solidly by Nov. 30. President Obama’s landmark health care reform law requires all uninsured Americans to either purchase insurance by early next year or pay a penalty.
“The administration’s failure to provide answers about what led to the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov and what is being done to fix it is completely unacceptable,” Issa said in a statement. “The evidence is mounting that the website did not go through proper testing, including critical security testing, and that the administration ignored repeated warnings from contractors about ongoing problems.”
If Sebelius doesn’t comply with the subpoena to Issa’s satisfaction, the oversight committee could hold her in contempt as it did Attorney General Eric Holder after President Obama refused to hand over documents related to Operation Fast and Furious, a botched Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms program to track guns across the U.S.-Mexican border.
That contempt citation has had little non-political consequence for Holder as it is enforced by the U.S. Justice Department, which he leads.