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Interview With South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn; Obamacare Under Fire

Aired October 29, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report: Obamacare Under Fire.

Breaking news: CNN uncovers a confidential report warning the Obama care Web site wasn't ready just weeks before it was launched. Plus, serious new questions about the president's health care hard sell. Did he mislead the American people by making this promise?


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan, period.


BLITZER: And a reality check on Obamacare sticker shock. Many people who weren't happy about paying more may actually be getting more.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin this hour with breaking news. We have new information about a confidential report the Obamacare Web site had problems, a warning to the administration shortly before the launch that -- apparently that warning was ignored. We have team coverage of the Obamacare under fire right now.

Let's go first to Joe Johns.

What are you learning, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in newly obtained documents submitted in response to a request by the House Reform and Oversight Committee, we're now getting a fuller picture of how much the government knew or should have known about problems with the Web site on the same day that the head of CMS issued a mea culpa.


JOHNS (voice-over): CNN has learned that the Obama administration was warned in September that Obamacare Web site wasn't ready to go live. The main contractor, CGI, issued this confidential report to the agency overseeing the rollout. It warned of a number of open risks and issues for the Web site.

The report gave the highest priority to things in plain language like we don't have access to monitoring tools. Not enough time and schedule to conduct adequate performance testing. And hub services are intermittently unavailable, short for, the site is not working sometimes.

CGI saying back in September they were putting a team in place to alert whenever the hub goes down. Up on Capitol Hill Tuesday, the head of CMS, the agency that received that report, kicked off testimony by saying she's sorry.

MARILYN TAVENNER, ADMINISTRATOR, CENTERS FOR MEDICARE AND MEDICAID SERVICES: We know that consumers are eager to purchase this coverage and to the millions of Americans who attempted to use to shop and enroll in health care coverage, I want to apologize to you that the Web site has not worked as well as it should.

JOHNS: Marilyn Tavenner was peppered with questions about when she will have enrollment numbers for Obamacare. She stuck to a script.

TAVENNER: We will have those numbers in mid-November, mid- November, mid-November.

JOHNS: And she tried to lower expectations. She doesn't expect a massive influx of enrollees at first, in line with what happened when the state of Massachusetts rolled out his its health care plan years ago.

TAVENNER: I will remind you that enrollment does occur until March 31 of 2014. I will also remind you that the Massachusetts experience very slow initially and that it started to ramp up over time. We expect the same type of projections.

JOHNS: But the Web site problems were almost like window dressing in the hearing room where open warfare over health care has been waged for decades. A Democratic Party congressman leaped out of his chair, claiming his party worked years ago to try to improve the Republican prescription drug plan, but when it came to Obamacare, the GOP didn't exactly return the favor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many of you stood up to do that? None. Zero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a false choice to say it's Obamacare or nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you really serious? You had a legitimate alternative? We have gone through 44 votes.

(END VIDEOTAPE) JOHNS: This hearing was only a warmup, of course, for the main event on Wednesday when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appears before another committee. Republicans in Congress calling for her head. Advance text of her remarks partially blame a subset of the 50-plus contractors on the project for not meeting expectations.

BLITZER: I saw the report. You shared it with me. This was the CGI report that was released, what, September 6. That is almost a full month before the October 1 rollout where they warned of these serious problems with the Web site. Any comment from the administration?

JOHNS: We have asked the agency CMS which is responsible for this rollout for a response. We're told they're working on it. The report from CGI we referenced at the top was based on work the company did during August. CGI Federal testified on the Hill in September and did not mention any of the problems in its report. Its statement said we're confident in our ability to successfully deliver on the task and they said they remain committed to the success of the Web site as a key mechanism for providing health care coverage by the statutory deadline by January 1, 2014.

Note that the Web site went live on October 1. What is not clear is whether there was a later report that indicated all of the previous problems had been fixed. Still waiting for answers on that.


BLITZER: By the way, as you were speaking, I just got a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services, CMS.

This is a statement. This is the document we're talking about. "This was a document at a point in time that identified issues, and we worked to address those issues and all issues identified." That's the exact statement. I'm not exactly sure precisely what it means, whether or not they fixed everything, they were satisfied by the end of September that the rollout would work, but they do confirm that this document did warn of all these serious problems.

JOHNS: Leaves questions unanswered.

BLITZER: A lot of questions. And I'm sure those questions will be asked of the secretary tomorrow when she testifies. We will have live coverage tomorrow morning starting at 8:55 a.m. Eastern here on CNN.

Thanks very much, Joe.

The Obamacare P.R. fiasco is exploding beyond the problems of the Web site. The hot question now ,did the president actually mislead Americans in selling his signature health care law?

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, millions of Americans are now being told they can't keep their current health care policies. What is the White House response?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, White House officials, they have been fighting back on Twitter, they have been arguing with reporters that the people who are being affected right now represent only a tiny fraction, 5 percent of the consumer insurance market as we stand today. But still, those changes that are happening for millions of Americans do call into question a key selling point the president made about the health care law, one the White House says was not misleading.


ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a presidential sales pitch.

OBAMA: If you like your plan, keep your plan.

ACOSTA: Millions of Americans aren't buying anymore.

OBAMA: If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. If you like your private health insurance plan, you can keep it.

ACOSTA: But as Obamacare becomes reality, consumers like construction workers like Ryan Hunt are finding they cannot keep their plans.

RYAN HUNT, INSURANCE CONSUMER: I'm furious. I'm like stomping mad. The guys I work with, they have gotten the same things, same letters. And when we call Blue Cross Blue Shield, they are like we have been dealing with this all day long every day.

ACOSTA: He's not alone. Nearly 15 million Americans who get coverage through individual plans may see their policies changed or canceled because they fall short of Obamacare requirements. Those consumers can buy new, possibly more expensive plans under the health care law and perhaps apply for subsidies.

(on camera): Did the president mislead American people when he made that comment repeatedly?


ACOSTA (voice-over): White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tried to make the case it's not Obamacare taking away those individual plans; it's the insurance companies.

CARNEY: What is absolutely true is that if you had a plan before the Affordable Care Act that you liked on the individual market and your insurance company didn't take that away from you and offer you something else that you then purchased, but they provided you the same plan this whole time, you can keep it. And that's true.

ACOSTA: But with 300,000 Blue Cross policies canceled in Florida and 160,000 Kaiser Permanente plans cut in California, even some Democrats say the president should have chosen his words more the precisely.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters, "I think preciseness would have been better."

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: It's getting harder to tell the Obamacare headlines from the Obamacare punchlines these days.

ACOSTA: Republicans argue the president's claims are coming back to haunt him.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: If the president knew that these letters were coming and still indicated that you could keep your health care plan if you liked it, now, that raises some serious questions about the sales job of Obamacare.


ACOSTA: Now, we're not only going to see the testimony from Kathleen Sebelius up on Capitol Hill tomorrow. We're also going to see the president. He's traveling up to Boston to make the case that the slow, messy rollout that came with Obamacare essentially matches the experience that the people in Massachusetts had with the rollout of Romneycare, that's right, the law that was signed by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, President Obama opponent in the 2012 election.

One thing we can say is we checked with aides to Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor will not be at the president's speech tomorrow. He's not going.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting from the White House, thank you.

Still ahead, in our special report, he's young and healthy, and he has Obamacare sticker shock. Is there a good reason for him to pay higher premiums?

And I will ask the number three House Democrat, James Clyburn, if the president misled the nation about Obamacare.

If you have questions, by the way, for Congressman Clyburn, tweet those questions for us and use #SITROOM.


BLITZER: "Obamacare Under Fire."

Has the president's faith in his own government been shaken? Our Gloria Borger, she thinks the answer may be yes. Stand by for more of our special report right after this.


BLITZER: This is a SITUATION ROOM special report, "Obamacare Under Fire."

Many insurers are raising their rates because of new requirements under the health care law. And that's giving some Americans a bad case of sticker shock. They will be paying more in 2014, but will they be getting more for their money? Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is here with a reality check.

Elizabeth, what are you learning?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we're learning is that many consumers will indeed be getting more comprehensive coverage under Obamacare, but some of them are saying they don't want it.


COHEN (voice-over): Dave Payne, a 34-year-old public relations professional in Florida, was initially excited about Obamacare. He buys his own insurance, and he thought, now I will get a better price. But, instead, he got sticker shock.

DAVID PAYNE, INSURANCE CONSUMER: It was really disheartening.

COHEN: Currently, Payne spends $173 per month for a policy with a $5,000 deductible. Under Obamacare, his new plan would cost $244 per month with a deductible of more than $6,000.

PAYNE: It's ridiculous.

COHEN: But hold on a minute. When we looked at Payne's current more inexpensive coverage, there are a lot of holes in it. It doesn't cover maternity care or brand-name drugs or mental health care or even routine illnesses like hernias or ear infections. We asked Payne about this.

(on camera): And we found that your old policy had a lot of holes in it.

(voice-over): But Payne said that's fine with him.

PAYNE: And these provide me the options that I'm comfortable with for a dollar amount that again I'm also comfortable with.

COHEN: But the Obama administration argues that so-called Swiss cheese policies like Payne's are financially risky since you can never predict what kind of illness you're going to get. An administration official testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday that Insurance companies have to change policies like Payne's.

TAVENNER: If they offer new plans, they have to come into the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

COHEN: Payne says he doesn't understand why he should pay more when he hardly ever goes to the doctor.

PAYNE: I'm young and healthy currently, and I intend on staying that way.

COHEN: He prefers his old policy, no matter what illnesses the future might bring. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COHEN: Now, David Payne makes too much money to get a subsidy under Obamacare. So we want to be clear, people who don't make as much money as he does, they could get subsidies and they would pay lower premiums.

BLITZER: Elizabeth, thank you.

The botched Obamacare rollout is certainly helping to fuel concerns that the president has lost control of his own government.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

You raised these questions in a new column you wrote on I will read to you a line or two. "Here are the larger questions that play into both the Web site fiasco and the NSA issues. How can a president take control of his own government? How can he make sure he knows what he needs to know? And as the pro-government cheerleader, doesn't he have a special responsibility to make sure it delivers, especially when his legacy hangs in the balance?"

The legacy being Obamacare.


BLITZER: So has he failed on this issue?

BORGER: I think you would have to say yes. Look, this is a president who has extolled the virtues of big government to us, particularly in terms of selling this program of Obamacare, saying, look, government can help you fix your health care problems.

And now what he's got is he's got people angry about the Web site. He's angry about the Web site. You have got people angry about NSA surveillance. He's now angry about NSA surveillance because he doesn't like the fact that Angela Merkel's phone was tapped. He can get angry, but in the end as he likes to say himself, the buck stops here. I'm the president of the United States.

And he needs to make it clear within the White House that it's important that the bad news get to him, because if he gets the bad news, then he can prevent the problems. But you know how that works in a White House, Wolf. People protect the president. They don't like it to go up the chain of command to the president. And he becomes isolated.

And there has to be some way as a president, as a manager, you say, you know what, that's not good for me, and it's not good for the country.

BLITZER: Because his aides or at least other officials at HHS, they knew there were serious problems in early September. We got the document showing those concerns. But apparently nobody shared those concerns with the president. BORGER: Well, right. And why would the president be the last to know? We have heard in history, presidents say, oh, they're always the last to know.

But in terms of this, this is an important issue to the president. Right? If you will recall, during the whole IRS controversy, the president didn't know. There are ways that people who work for the president, of course, want to protect the president, give him plausible deniability on a whole variety of issues.

But if Kathleen Sebelius knew, the secretary of HHS, if she knew, and if the people at the White House also knew, I would find it hard to believe that she wouldn't share it with some people at the White House in key positions. The president should be asking the question and may well be asking the question, why wasn't I told? Because, once he's told, maybe he can get things done.

BLITZER: We will see what she says tomorrow morning when she testifies before this committee.

BORGER: That's right.

BLITZER: Our special coverage will begin at 8:55 a.m. Eastern. The hearing begins at 9:00 a.m. Gloria will be here with us as well.

Just ahead, the third ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, James Clyburn, he's standing by live. I'm going to ask him about the breaking news, that secret report in early September about serious problems about the Obamacare Web site. You see James Clyburn right there. Our special report, "Obamacare Under Fire," continues through the half-hour, with "CROSSFIRE" at 6:30 as well.


BLITZER: The Republican Party has a new ad using humor to attack Obamacare.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. I'm the private sector.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obamacare, what are you doing down there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just down for a little maintenance.


BLITZER: The spot is aimed at an important audience, young people who could make or break the Obamacare program, depending on whether or not they enroll. It will air on Comedy Central in the Washington, D.C., TV market later tonight.

More of our special report, "Obamacare Under Fire," right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to our breaking news, a CNN exclusive.

We have obtained a document right here that shows that the Obama administration was clearly warned in early September, September 6, that the Obamacare Web site wasn't ready to roll out on October 1. That was only, as we say, a few weeks before it was launched.

We're now joined by the third-ranking Democrat in the House, Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina.

Congressman, as usually, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, thank you so much for having me.

BLITZER: Is there any explanation why, if they were told, HHS, that there were so many problems with this Web site on September 6, they still went ahead and rolled it out and had this fiasco on October 1?

CLYBURN: Well, I don't know to fact, when in three weeks, maybe they thought they could fix it in three weeks.

To be told on September 6 that there's something wrong for something that's going to happen on October 1, that's three full weeks to work on the problem. I guess maybe that's what they spent their time doing, and maybe it was not enough time to get it done.

But the fact of the matter is, there's still a way to sign up. I have been encouraging everybody in South Carolina that will listen to me, use the 1-800 number. Go to the community health centers in the community. We got 30 of them in South Carolina. All of these people have got folks there. You can talk to somebody person to person, which is the way I would rather do it myself.

So the Web -- the site will get fixed. It's problematic now. But it's always been that way. It took six months to fix it eight years ago when we did Medicare Part D. And we had the same kinds of headlines. And the grade given it in the headline was an F. And I suspect they're getting failing grades now.

But it's what happens four, five months from now by March 31, and I think that there's plenty enough time to get this fixed.

BLITZER: What about the president's repeated promise that if you like your health care program, you can keep your health care plan, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor? Not exactly true, as we now know, because millions of people are losing their health care programs. A lot of them liked it.

Now they might be able to get better ones, but they're still not able to keep what they had. What do you think about that?

CLYBURN: Well, I think that people like what they had until they try to use it.

That's when you decide whether or not you really like what you have got. Two of my three daughters, I had to pay for out of pocket when they were born, simply because of some fine print in the insurance policies. I ended up paying the doctor and the hospital out of pocket.

That happens when you don't read the fine print. I have heard from people today who tell me that they're getting cheaper policies and they're getting better coverage. And I believe the head of Florida Blue said as much on "Meet the Press," I believe it was, on Sunday, that people who get these letters will find in many instances that they will get a better policy for cheaper rates. And so nobody really knows what they have got until they try to use it.

BLITZER: But, you know, a lot of people will get a different policy, and they may get better protection, but if their premiums are going to go up, their deductibles are going to go up, and they're not very happy.

CLYBURN: Well, that may be true.

And they don't know exactly what it's going to cost them. Just because the premium goes up doesn't mean you don't qualify for a subsidy. And that's exactly what this is all about, making sure that it is affordable. It didn't say free. It's affordable health care.

And if people find out that their policy, they're qualified for a policy, then it's time to determine whether or not they qualify for a subsidy. Nobody's talking about the subsidies. And they're there for people based upon income.

And so I would hope that we look at it holistically. And I'm not too sure that there won't be people who will find that they're much, much better off than they were without it. I know this. And nobody knows when they will slip and fall, have a broken ankle or get sick. Just because you're healthy today doesn't mean that you won't be visited by some ill health issue two days from now.

BLITZER: And everybody needs health insurance.

CLYBURN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman, appreciate it very much. Thanks very much for joining us.

CLYBURN: Thank you so much for having me.

BLITZER: Remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Tweet me @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSITROOM.