Health Subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts On The Possibility Of The 5th Being Invoked At The Obamacare Hearings
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HH: The hits to Obamacare just keep coming. Just breaking this afternoon, 300,000 Floridians have received letters from Florida Blue instructing them that they no longer will have coverage come January 1. I’ll talk about that after the break with United States Senator Marco Rubio. Right now, however, I’m joined by Congressman Joe Pitts, who is chairman of the Health subcommittee of the powerful Energy and Commerce committee. And in his decade and a half of representing the people, the good people of the 16th Congressional district in Pennsylvania, most of them Eagles fans, not Steelers fans, and that’s in their favor. We doubt there’s ever been as important a domestic policy hearing as you’re about to hold next week with Kathleen Sebelius, Chairman Pitts. Welcome.
JP: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with you.
HH: How important is next week’s showdown with the secretary?
JP: Well, it’s very, very important. We had asked her to come and testify at a hearing this week, on Thursday. She declined our invitation. She had time for Jon Stewart, but I guess we expect her to have time for Congress. She declined. So we sent her a letter pressing her to reconsider, and after repeated calls, we have scheduled a hearing on October 30th. It’s a very important hearing. This health car law’s disastrous rollout has created not only a competence question for the administration, but it’s again raised the issue of fairness. Forcing Americans to purchase a product that is too expensive and not accessible is unacceptable. It’s unrealistic, it’s unfair.
HH: Chairman Pitts, I’ve been talking to the people who know what they’re really talking about here on our side of the aisle – Yuval Levin and Lanhhee Chen and Tevy Troy, you know, the big brains of health care reform. Is the committee going to sit down with our best people before this happens so that they sharpen their lines of inquiry and don’t waste opportunities?
JP: Yes. In fact, we just had a meeting today on that very issue, to make sure that we can follow the line of questioning, have brief questions, to the point, make sure we get answers, not let her go on and on dodging. Yes, we are working on that right now with committee members.
HH: All three of those experts say the problems with the website are just the beginning, that there are deep infrastructure problems here about the inability to communicate with providers, with insurance companies. Have you seen those surfacing in your conversations with staff and the public?
JP: Absolutely. Absolutely. You’ve had contractors in front of our Health subcommittee. Everyone said they were ready. Then, of course, we’ve seen what’s happened with this disastrous rollout, and all kinds of problems. And future problems are going to occur if this isn’t corrected. And it looks like it’s going to be a rolling disaster.
HH: Now Chairman Pitts, I’m friends with one of the country’s leading health care lawyers. His name is Lowell Brown out in Los Angeles, represents some of the biggest hospital systems and hospital providers in the state and indeed, the country. And I’ve been talking to him about this, and he says wow, the Medicaid expansion, these regs are rolling out of CMS, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He’s worried that you guys don’t have enough watchdogs on the HHS bureaucracy. Are you following that regulatory steamroller that’s coming out?
JP: Yeah, we’ve got our hands full with all of these issues. Yes, but we’ve got several committees watching this and doing oversight, which is extremely important. And we’re unfortunately not getting a lot of details from the administration. They say they’re working on a tech surge, and things are going to be fixed, but there are lots of others problems, you know, HIPA compliance and information not being confidential, the cost this is going to be to doctors and hospitals who aren’t going to be paid. It’s just a disaster.
HH: Chairman Pitts, you touch on something, the data privacy. I would never let my friends or family near a website with this kind of chronic maladministration for fear that any promises they make about data security are just gone with the wind, and that the data pirates, who are legion, are international, and are enormously predatory, are sitting there waiting to crack open the vault on your most personal data.
JP: Yeah, this is a hacker’s dream. And they were promised everyone’s premiums would go down, families would save $2,500 dollars, the President clearly stated if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, if you like your plan, you can keep your plan. That is totally false. And so people are going to find out what this is really going to cost them. We warned that premiums could increase as much as 400%, and we were right. And all of our members are hearing constituent stories daily of the massive premium increases and the people losing their coverage. 800,000 people in New Jersey currently purchasing health care through individual and small business markets were told that their plans no longer exist.
HH: Have any of your colleagues across the aisle, I mean, you’ve been there a while and you’re very well-respected and well-liked. Have they gone aside and said Joe, this is the Titanic?
JP: Yes. Unfortunately, they’re beginning to say that and with some embarrassment, because they supported this in a strong party line vote, and have resisted any kind of efforts to fix it. So, yes.
HH: So what’s your advice? You know, your average Eagles fan’s not going to win the spelling bee. They call you up and they can’t make this website work. What’s your office telling them?
JP: Well, they can’t go in the exchanges for now. They’re broken. Basically, you’re being forced to buy a broken product. And so we are consumed with oversight, trying to see why this happened, what they’re doing to fix it, and trying to get some answers from the administration about what went wrong. And they told us for months they were on track. They spent hundreds of millions of dollars doing this. So we will continue to try to get basic information for people, but right now, good luck. It’s not working.
HH: Yesterday, the President said…
BO: It’s really good.
HH: And I played…
BO: It’s really good.
HH: …a few million times on yesterday’s show, because it’s a jaw-dropper. Did you watch his speech yesterday, Chairman Pitts?
JP: No, I heard about, I read about it, but I didn’t hear it. He’s good at spinning, but he’s not good at walking the walk or delivering, or administering, because obviously with four years preparation and hundreds of millions of dollars, they got this wrong, and it’s very defective.
HH: Now I’ve got this image, this tech surge he talked about, and people calling up and volunteering, that somehow the high tech wizards of Silicon Valley are calling the President and chewing the fat and offering to send a planeload full of their whiz kids who aren’t vetted, aren’t secured, don’t know anything about data protocols, and it is not legal to do that, is it, Mr. Chairman?
JP: No, I’d like to know what this tech surge is, and where they’re doing it. I’d like to do an on-site visit if they’re supposed to be working 24/7, you know, the President evidently says a lot of the private sector people want to help. But I think this is so massive that they’re going to have to start all over.
HH: Any whistleblowers begun to call the committee with tales of either waste, fraud and abuse, or of simple but malignant incompetence?
JP: We are beginning to get some what you would call compliant witnesses, witnesses who want to be here. So yes, we’re just beginning to get some of that.
HH: Now on this Thursday, I believe, you’ve got the contractors coming before the committee. Am I correct about that, Chairman Pitts?
JP: That is correct.
HH: Do you expect any 5th Amendments to be taken?
JP: Well, we’re going to swear them in. I don’t think so. These are the same witnesses who told us in the summer and in the fall, in the run up, that they were ready.
HH: Well, that’s what I mean. If I’m you, I read them back their testimony about ready, and I ask them did you lie to me? And then they say I, on the instructions of my attorney, I’ve got to take the 5th. Don’t you expect that’s going to happen?
JP: Well, that’s what I’m going to do. I don’t know if they’ll take the 5th or not, but we’re going to read them back what they said and ask them if they’re just out of touch, or incompetent, or if they were lying to us.
HH: Now Mr. Chairman, I don’t recall. Are you a lawyer?
HH: Okay, well, if you were chief counsel, I wouldn’t let these people answer that. These people are all going to go to jail. They took the money.
JP: Well, they sure have misused a lot of money.
HH: All right, so to wrap up, Mr. Chairman, the subcommittee on Health normally would have jurisdiction on this, but you’re going full committee. Does that bother you?
JP: No, not at all. This is big enough that we need everybody involved, and we will work together in developing our questioning so a lot of people don’t ask the same questions.
HH: All right, last question. I’m going to go background. Do you expect to hear 5th Amendment at all on a week from Thursday from Kathleen Sebelius?
JP: I would certainly hope not. If she does, they’ll be calling for her scalp.
HH: Chairman Joe Pitts from Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District, thank you.
End of interview.