Energy And Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton On The Sebelius Hearing Next Week
HH: Huge week next week as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius goes to the Hill in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to answer questions about the incredible avalanche of failure that is Obamacare. Chairing the committee in front of which she will appear is Fred Upton of Michigan. Congressman Upton has been serving for a quarter century. He’s been a chairman for the last two years. Mr. Chairman, welcome, good to have you.
FU: It’s still Fred, Hugh. How are you, sir?
HH: (laughing) I’m great, thank you, and it’s still…
FU: A quarter century, and I look just the same. That’s what my wife says.
HH: Well, I know, and you’re only a couple of years older than I am, so I think you look really young.
HH: Mr. Chairman, when she shows up next week, is she before the full committee or a subcommittee on which you will be sitting?
FU: It’s going to be full committee. And as you know, you wanted her this week, and she’s got that thing up in Boston. We are still going ahead with the hearing on Thursday. We’re going to have the contractors come. So they’ll actually be able to give us some good information. We’re starting to get the testimony in. That will be full committee as well. We really have two subcommittees on jurisdiction – the Oversight subcommittee and the Health subcommittee. So many members wanted to ask questions that I decided last week that we would make it a full committee. So it will be full committee for both, this week and next week.
HH: Now when that happens, it becomes unwieldy. But as your colleague, Darrell Issa did in the Benghazi hearings, it is possible to coordinate and sharpen inquiries. Are you working with your members and the staff to make sure that this is…
FU: Oh, absolutely. We have a very good staff. And we’re going to be sitting down with the members yet this evening with the members, with my subcommittee chairs and vice chairs, and we’re going to have a meeting tomorrow morning, or before the Thursday hearing, and then again next week before Secretary Sebelius comes in as well. So we’ll be on the same page. We’ll be sharing information, lines of questions. Not everybody’s an attorney, including me. I’m not an attorney. But I think you’ll see a very good hearing engaged with all the members on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
HH: Far beyond the collapse of the website, Mr. Chairman, sticker shock is rolling out across the land. They call my show all the time with premium hikes of four, five, six hundred dollars a month, and huge deductibles or outright loss of coverage. Is the committee collecting those horror stories?
FU: Well, you know, we are, number one, and in fact, last week, I asked that individuals who have problems as they sign up ought to be able to get onto our committee website and be able to log those personal stories in. So I don’t know if that’s up and running, yet, but we talked about that last week. And so we’re going to be doing that. We had a little meeting last week. Second, it’s our committee, actually, that began to release that information last summer, yet another broken promise. Everyone is able to keep their health insurance, their doctors, premiums were going to go down, all of that has been exactly the opposite. And so we’ve got a lot of questions, there’ll be a lot of, as they say, lotta splainin’ to do by the secretary when she comes up to testify next week.
HH: Now a huge concern, Mr. Chairman, I’m hearing a lot…
FU: Now Hugh, it’s still Fred.
HH: I know, I know, but you have to go with me. I know you do that with your constituents, but you know…
FU: No, no.
HH: Down the radio row, they don’t…
FU: Even my dad says call me Steve.
HH: Well, okay, I’ll tell Steve.
FU: All right.
HH: I’ll call Steve, Steve, but for you, it’s Mr. Chairman.
HH: I’m hearing a lot that Americans are worried about the security of their data, that these sites…
FU: For good reason.
HH: Okay, tell me about that.
FU: Let me just cut you off there, for good reason. We have a major identify theft problem anyway in this country, and we want to make sure that before this thing goes any further that individuals will know, have some type of assurance that that information will not be a hacker’s dream. And I’m not sure that we can give that information, or we cannot give that assurance today. And that’s one of the things we’re following up on. And I want you to know that Mike Rogers, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, serves on our committee as well, and he has been very helpful as we try to ascertain whether that information is really secure or not as individuals look to sign up.
HH: Do you expect to be drilling down on that particular issue, data security, with the secretary?
FU: I think that that’ll come up. If it doesn’t come up this Thursday with the contractors, it’s certainly something that we’re pursuing, and we’re gathering information now. We’re talking to a number of different computer units to find out whether or not they think that information is secure. We don’t have an answer, a complete answer, yet, but that’s not something that we’re going to be shying away from.
HH: And, because if the secretary answers yes, it’s safe, I think that’s a marker to put down, because I don’t think it is, and I’m in agreement with you on it.
FU: Well, she’s going to be under oath.
HH: Oh, that’s good. That’s very good. Now do you have any estimates of how many people have either lost their old insurance, or informed their coverage is about to be cancelled?
FU: Well you know, that’s one of my big concerns. I mean, this ought to be the easy part, right?
FU: Signing up?
FU: The hard part really starts January 1st when some of these folks get ill, they need coverage, they go to the hospital, they go to the doctor, and all of a sudden, those records aren’t found. How are people going to get reimbursed? I mean, that’s the part that’s really scary. And if they can’t do this easy part, how in the heck are they going to do that one?
HH: Does the committee staff, yet, have estimates, though, as to how many people…
FU: Well, we’ve been asking a lot of questions, and you’ll remember that all these different federal agencies, the administration said they were ready. They could hardly wait for October 1st to come, because they were ready. And obviously, that’s not the case.
HH: There are geographical differences from my anecdotal collection via the radio. It seems to me that Florida has been most obviously and awfully hurt. Have you figured out a pattern, yet, to where the dislocation is most intense?
FU: We’ve not. I’ve not found any states, well, I would say are in good shape. I don’t know, I mean, we’ve got members from almost every state on our committee. We’ve got 54 members. And I’m sure that everyone’s going to be bringing their local perspective in as it relates to their own district.
HH: Is Mr. Waxman at all concerned? I know he’s an old war horse of the left. I’ve interviewed him many times in my years in California. But even he must be recognizing he’s destroying, this law’s destroying the health care system in America.
FU: Well, my guess is that he’s going to say that so many people are interested in this thing that that’s the reason for these computer breakdowns. But in reality, I don’t think that’s the case. And that’ll be pretty evident when we get to the hearing not only this Thursday, but next Wednesday with the secretary.
HH: We’re hearing from a lot of callers that their increases are 50%, 100%…
HH: Did you, personally, expect such hikes? Did you, did they ever tell you yeah, we’re going to have 100% rate hikes in some places?
FU: Well, you know, that’s some of the evidence that we put forth last summer. I think the 50 states, 45 of the states had their rates go up. Massachusetts and New York didn’t, because they were already going to, their rates were going up, so it wasn’t already higher than that. But we knew that for the average individual in 45 of those 50 states, it was going to go up, and obviously rather dramatically.
HH: On the provider side, doctors and hospitals, are you hearing complaints there? And will any of the hearing focus…
FU: They’re scared to death. I was back in Michigan this weekend, talked to some of my providers there. They’re shaking their heads. They don’t know how this thing is going to work. And that’s something that we’re going to continue to investigate.
HH: Now this goes to the technical side. The President yesterday, well, you heard him say this.
BO: It’s really good.
HH: I don’t know if you heard a lot of the other stuff he had to say yesterday, but it was almost oblivious of the facts. Were you surprised by his tone in the Rose Garden yesterday?
FU: I was surprised at his tone. The excuses aren’t very good, and we’re going to continue to drill down to try and get the answers. But you know, it’s not a reasonable excuse, what he gave yesterday.
HH: Now let’s focus for a second on what he also promised. He said there’s a “tech surge” underway. Where’s the headquarters for that surge, Mr. Chairman?
FU: Yeah, we’ll be asking those questions.
HH: Do you know who’s running it? Do you have a chain of command below Secretary Sebelius to follow?
FU: Well, I would imagine that she’s going to bring some folks with her next week, and she’s going to be turning around in her chair, asking for some answers. We’ll see what they say.
HH: Do you expect filibusters from her?
FU: You know, we do have a clock. We’ve got 54 members. We’ve got, people are going to be asking a lot of questions. If we have to go a second round of questions, we will, or after that.
HH: Will you go as long as it takes? Are you willing to go late into the night?
FU: Well, we’re starting, I want to say, at 10:00, 9:00 next week. So it, we’re going to go a number of hours, that’s for sure.
HH: And is she already scheduled for a follow-up visit?
FU: You know, she comes to appear from time to time. This is not going to, this investigation is not over next week. We’ll go until what it takes. And again, we’ve got a lot of questions for once we get beyond even the signup period, too.
HH: Now last hour, Senator Rubio was on and said to me that he hopes that the President, that he can get a law through that will extend the mandate for six months after GAO announces that the registers, or the websites are ready and up and going. Do you think that’s possible? Would the Democrats cooperate in that?
FU: Well, you know, let’s see what she has to say. You’ll remember that we really did see these problems coming up last summer, and that’s one of the reasons, you know, they delayed the employer mandate, as you know. I’m sure that that question is going to come up. If this thing isn’t ready for prime time, why aren’t you looking at some type of delay on the individual side, at least the fines in the signup period? But again, one of the big difficulties is, I mean, this is a gigantic mess, to say the least. Think of how many millions of Americans have already received the notice from their insurance company this year saying that it’s cancelled?
HH: Yeah, that is…
FU: How do you put that jack back in the box again?
HH: You don’t. Let me switch over to the private sector side. You’ve held a lot of hearings. I’m sure you remember the years when, well, actually, what year did you go to Congress? You probably came in after the Reagan defense…
FU: It seems like yesterday.
HH: (laughing) Well, that’s like when I was running OPM, 1986. But they used to run these hearings where you’d have $600 dollar toilet seats, and thousand dollar hammers.
HH: And Democrats used to worry about contractor failure. I guess they don’t anymore. The contractors that are coming in Thursday, does this strike you as an order of magnitude worse than anything you’ve seen before, Fred Upton?
FU: Well, you know, these contractors received tens of millions of dollars. They have bits and pieces of the overall contract. I want to say it was the administration, CMS and HHS that were in charge of trying to put it together. Even though they said they were going to run all these different programs, it’s pretty clear that they didn’t, because back in August and September, they said that they were ready to roll.
HH: And is it…
FU: So we’re going to find out what these contractors told HHS, because again, even though Sebelius couldn’t come this week, by agreeing to come next week, we’ll just have more information under our belt and ready for her next week to get to the bottom of this.
HH: To your knowledge, Mr. Chairman, has anyone been fired? Anybody at all?
FU: Not to my knowledge. The buck’s got to stop someplace, and we’ll be asking the tough questions to see exactly where that ought to be.
HH: Are you going to be following the old Howard Baker line, what did the President know and when did he know it?
FU: I’m sure that that’s going to come up a bunch of times on Thursday.
HH: Do you think he was briefed before this fiasco began?
FU: You know, I don’t know what he was told, but you’ve got to remember, too, one of the reasons that they’re in this mess, Hugh, you’ll remember that the administration delayed the promulgation of the regulations relating to this whole issue before the election last year. So it’s really in their lap, big time.
HH: Now you’ve been around long enough. You know, my antenna began to quiver when he talked about the private tech surge yesterday. It’s not legal to accept volunteer help from the private sector for a lot of reasons, including they haven’t been vetted, and you don’t know what they’re doing. Are you going to raise these questions?
FU: I’m sure, you know what? We’ve got a ton of questions ready to go.
HH: At the end of this, do you expect the secretary to still want to be the secretary?
FU: We’ll see what she says. We’ll see how she does. I’m sure it’s going to be on C-SPAN.
HH: Let me conclude by talking back to your committee discipline. And I don’t know how you do this, Fred Upton. I know everybody loves you on your committee. Everyone says you’re, Fred Barnes says you’re the nicest neighbor anyone could possibly want.
HH: Are you tough enough to keep your freshmen from doing their star turn and eating up all the time, because the more time she talks, the more we learn.
FU: Look, we have a very talented crew. I wanted freshmen on our committee, because we’ve got some really good ones. And you’ve probably talked to some – Cory Gardner, Mike Pompeo…
HH: Well you know, Gardner’s from Colorado, so I can’t say much about him. But Pompeo…
FU: But I mean, we’ve got some former prosecutors, we’ve got some really good people, and they’re there for a reason, and we’ll get to the bottom of this.
HH: All right, last question. If you’re not going to take my bait on coordination, Cory Gardner will keep it short and smart, I know.
FU: Yeah, he’s good.
HH: But you’ve got the University of Michigan Ann Arbor medical complex. I have to admit this slowly for the benefit of people living in Michigan. It’s really a fine hospital complex. There, I said something nice about Michigan.
HH: Have any of them come to you and said this system is killing them?
FU: Not yet, but we are, you know, this again, this goes back to what I said a little bit earlier. I have real concerns as when this thing gets, if it ever gets up and running, as to whether or not our providers, whether it be a U of M, whether it be a Stanford, whether it be a Mayo Clinic or a Cleveland Clinic, or whether they’re actually going to be able to cope with this system as they look to treat worthy people. And we’ll be following through on that.
HH: You know, they’ve had privacy regs forever. They’ve had to be very careful about data forever. Have any of them whispered to you the concern that the data going into these exchanges is just out there?
FU: Yeah. No, no, we’re going to pursue that. But hey, I hate to run, but I’ve got folks that are waiting for me, and we’re going to say on this like a dog to a Frisbee.
HH: Mr. Chairman, we’ll talk to you after the hearing. Good luck next week.
FU: I look forward to it. Thanks, Hugh.
HH: Thank you.
End of interview.