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House Committee Holds Hearing Into Ongoing Obamacare Website Fiasco; "Stand Your Ground" Hearing Under Way; Graham Threatens To Block Obama Nominees; Benghazi Witnesses Go Public About Warning

Aired October 29, 2013 - 10:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Her name is Marilyn Tavenner. She is the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. I want to show you now some live pictures if we can get you up as this hearing as it gets under way in Washington. But while the presidents' men and women do damage control, there's new concern, not about access to the website, but about access to people's insurance policies.

President Obama has given repeated insurances about Americans being able to keep their current health care plan under the affordable care act if they want to. He's done this in speeches going back as far as four years.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Under the reform we're proposing, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your health care plan.


HARLOW: All right, but now we're learning a lot more about that, that that may not be the case for a number of Americans. Joe Johns is following the story from Washington. What do you have, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Poppy. This really goes to the heart of the debate about Obamacare on Capitol Hill. The president did say you can keep your health insurance if you want to, said that over and over again. It was part of his main sales pitch, but it's also true that up to a couple million consumers have already gotten notices that their insurance is going to be canceled and true as well that federal regulations are saying some people are going to be dropped.

So who has been telling the truth? The answer is that anybody who has been paying close attention to this story knows Obamacare only promise that people who already enrolled in health insurance in the private market when the Obamacare law passed were supposed to be able to keep their insurance.

So if you bought insurance after the law passed or if you changed your insurance policy after the law passed then you probably wouldn't be able ultimately to keep it. The estimates are anywhere between 11 million to up to 15 million people are in that category on the private insurance market. This only applies to the private market, not people who got their insurance through their employer or government or with Medicare or Medicaid or anything like that -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Is the White House addressing this -- this right now, Joe?

JOHNS: Yes. The White House this morning is really refreezing its earlier advisories about something called grandfathering. In other words, the people who bought insurance before the law was passed are grandfathered in unless the insurance changed -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK, Joe Johns, we'll keep following this because I think there's going to be a lot of questions. You said 11 million to 15 million people that this could affect. Appreciate it. Thanks, Joe.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Also getting under way this morning on Capitol Hill -- in fact, these are live pictures -- a Senate hearing on "stand your ground" laws and whether they need to be reformed. Testifying this morning was the mother of Trayvon Martin. As you know, the Florida "Stand Your Ground" law was hotly debated during the Trayvon Martin case where George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of 2012 of an unarmed teenager.

Outrage over Zimmerman's acquittal led to widespread protest. Critics say that stand your ground is just an excuse for some to take the law into their own hands, others disagreeing.


REPRESENTATIVE DENNIS BAXLEY (R), FLORIDA: It's for law-abiding citizens who is doing nothing wrong who suffer a violent attack.

MICHAEL SKOLNIK, TRAYVON MARTIN FOUNDATION: It promotes the idea that you go out there and you take care of the situation and don't listen to the police or law enforcement.


SAVIDGE: At least 22 states have "Stand Your Ground" laws. Several other states have some version of it.

So let's bring in our CNN legal analysts, Sunny Hostin and Paul Callan. Trayvon's mom, Sybrina Fulton, says it is time for states to clarify these laws. Good morning, by the way. I should have started with that. But will today's hearing really change anything. Sunny, we'll start with you.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I think so. I've spoken to Sybrina many times about this and she certainly feels that this is part of her ministry, part of her legacy, to get some sort of change in this law. And I think the trial made it very clear that these laws do need further scrutiny, and I think it's an important step in terms of reform, possible reform that the Senate is looking at this.

I mean, let's face it. It's important for the Senate to look at this because there are civil rights, I think implications, Martin, when you have racial profiling and "Stand Your Ground" laws mixing. And so perhaps that is something that this Senate will look at. It's an important step that's need.

Because law enforcement folks that I've spoken to by and large are really against stand your ground. They're not in support of it. They certainly feel that it has inspired a lot of vigilante justice when you look at the numbers. So there is certainly further scrutiny that needs to be done in terms of these laws.

SAVIDGE: Paul, I'm going to bring you in. But first let me tell you this, the mother the Jordan Davis, that's another unarmed black Florida teen who was killed in an argument over loud music is also expected to testify. "Stand Your Ground" has also been the focus in that particular case. Do you think this helps bolster the argument by some that this law really encourages unnecessary confrontations and promotes racial profiling?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it's a difficult question in terms of how the federal government can deal with it. Because even if it turns out to be true, and I think by the way statistically that most of the victims of the "Stand Your Ground" law tend to be black and African-American and Hispanics. So you can make an argument clearly that at least from a statistical standpoint the victims are people of color.

However, the federal government generally doesn't amend criminal laws of the states, and this would be very, very unusual if they would intervene in some way and say we're going to redefine self-defense in Florida and other states that have "Stand Your Ground" laws. I mean, it would be unprecedented for such a federal intervention. So I think in the end, we'll hear about all of this and it's going to cast a lot of light on the problem. But in the end, the solution to this if there is a problem lies in the state legislatures not federal.

SAVIDGE: I agree. All right, well, there's a lot more that could be said about this, but time doesn't allow. Paul Callan and Sunny Hostin, thank you very much for joining us this morning. It's nice to see you both.

HARLOW: All right, I want to take you now back to Washington. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has turned up the heat on the Obama administration for the handling of last year's Benghazi terror attack and the aftermath. He's threatening to block all president nominations before the senate until survivors of the attack testify before the congress. Take a listen.


SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: But for God's sake, let the House have a select committee where you get three or four committees together to look at this situation as one unit rather than stove ping. And where are the survivors? Fourteen months later, the survivors, the people who survived the attack in Benghazi, has not been made available. I'm going to block every appointment in the United States Senate until the survivors are being made available to Congress. I'm tired of hearing from people on TV and reading about stuff in books child we need to get to the bottom of this.


HARLOW: Let me give you context here. Those comments from Lindsey Graham came a day after a new "60 Minutes" report where eyewitnesses to the attack in Libya described warning signs that they saw leading up to it. One, a former British soldier who trained unarmed guards at the compound's gate described concerns he saw with another group of Libyans who were charged with defending the compound. Listen to him.


MORGAN JONES, FORMER BRITISH SOLDIER: Because I was saying, "These guys are no good. You need to get them out of here."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You also kept saying if this place is attacked, these guys are not going to stand and fight.

JONES: I used to say it all the time. You know, in the end I got quite bored of hearing my own voice saying it.


HARLOW: Also Green Beret commander, Lieutenant Colonel Andy Wood was one of the top American security officials in Libya. He told "60 Minutes" that he raised concerns directly with Ambassador Stevens just three months before they were killed in that attack.


LT. COL. ANDY WOOD, GREEN BERET COMMANDER: I made it known in a meeting, you were going to get attacked and you are going to get attacked in Benghazi. It's going to happen.


WOOD: Shut down operations. Move out temporarily or change locations within the city. You are being targeted.


HARLOW: This is bringing up many, many more questions and we're seeing Senator Lindsey Graham responding to them. Let's bring in Athena Jones on Capitol Hill. Does he have the power to block all presidential nominees? Can he do this?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he does. One senator can single-handedly hold up the entire confirmation processes. He's been a long-time critic of the administration's handling and explanation of how the Benghazi attack to get past it, it will require a 60 vote threshold. And that's difficult to get.

But under Senate rules, he can do this. This is something that we've heard from Senator Graham about this before. He's been a long-time critic of the administration's handling and explanation of how the Benghazi attack went down.

And you may remember he put a hold on the confirmation of John Brennan as CIA director because he wanted to learn from the White House just when the president first contacted the Libyan government about this attack. So this is not the first time the White House has had to confront this sort of thing. This is the way the Senate works. One person can hold up the whole process -- Poppy.

HARLOW: When we spoke earlier on the show, you said there hasn't been a lot of reaction to this on the Hill to this. And Lindsey Graham said this about 24 hours ago. We've got some critical nominees here, for example, you know, the nominee for the next fed chair, Janet Yellen?

JONES: Exactly. You have not only these important circuit court judge positions but Fed Chief Janet Yellen. We are told that we could see the beginnings of hearing for her in the next several weeks. She has to replace Ben Bernanke who is stepping down in January and this would be a really big deal, of course, if Senator Graham comes through on this threat.

I reached out to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office again asking about this. So far still no reaction so maybe for the moment they are holding their fire. We are asking, but this is no doubt -- this is a big deal if he stands in the way on this. Like I said, you've got to get -- you've got to get the 60 votes and that can be very difficult on Capitol Hill.

HARLOW: He can and he says he's going to unless we see some of the testimony from survivors. So we'll see what happens. Athena, appreciate it. Thank you. Still to come, the countdown to the showdown.

SAVIDGE: That's the woman in charge of Obamacare and its roll-out will face committee tomorrow. We're monitoring it all for you. We'll have more right after this.


HARLOW: Want to take you live right now to Washington, D.C., a hearing getting underway. You're looking at Marilyn Tavenner. She is the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Her testimony is critical because she was at the helm of the Obamacare website. Listen in.


MARILYN B. TAVENNER, ADMINISTRATOR, CENTERS FOR MEDICARE AND MEDICAID SERVICES: It creates a new market,which allows people to access quality, Affordable Health Care. It allows them to have insurance options. It creates a pooling of consumers into statewide group plans that can spread the risk between sick people and healthy people, between young and old, and then bargains on their behalf to get them the best deal on health insurance.

By creating competition where there wasn't competition before, insurers are now eager for new business and have created new health care plans with more choices. The premiums for coverage were lower than expected and millions of Americans will also qualify for tax credits to make the coverage even more affordable.

We know that consumers are eager to purchase this coverage, and to the millions of Americans who have attempted to use to shop and enroll in health care coverage, I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should.

We know how desperately you need affordable coverage.

I want to ensure you that can and will be fixed, and we are working around the clock to deliver the shopping experience that you deserve. We are seeing improvements each week, and as we said publicly, by the end of November, the experience on the site will be smooth for the vast majority of users.

Over the past month, millions have visited to take a look at new healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and in that time, nearly 700,000 applications for coverage have been submitted across the nation. More than half of those are in the federal marketplace alone. This tremendous interest confirms that American people are looking for quality, affordable health care coverage.

We know that the consumer experience has been frustrating for many Americans. Some have had trouble creating accounts and logging into the site, while others received confusing error messages or had to wait for slow response times. This initial experience has not lived up to our expectations or the expectations of the American people, and it is not acceptable.

We are committed to improving the performance and have already made progress.

In the first few days when the site went live, few customers could create an account. Now over 90 percent can. We've updated the site several times, fixing bugs and improving the experience. And we've added more capacity in order to meet demand.

We are pleased with these quick improvements and parts of the system are already working well.

For example, the data hub, the routing tool that provides an efficient and secure way to verify information submitted by consumers, is sending determinations to the marketplace in less than 1.2 seconds. Social Security has reported 4.2 million transactions with the hub, and the IRS has responded to more than 1.3 million requests.

Even with this success, we know there's still significant work to do, and we've called in a team of experts, led by Jeff Zients, to analyze the site, identify and prioritize fixes. We've spent the last few weeks -- last week going over that, and while these problems will require a lot of hard work, the bottom line conclusion is this site is fixable.

To get the job done, we've identified a clear path forward, a lot of fixes that will be undertaken one by one. To ensure the work is done as quickly and efficiently as possible, we've enlisted the help of QSSI to serve as general contractor for this project.

They are familiar with the complexity of the system and the work they provided for, the federal data hub, is working well and performing as it should. QSSI has the skills and expertise to help us address these problems. They will work with leadership and contractors to prioritize the needed fixes and make sure they get done.

We are committed to improving the consumer experience with While we continue this work, I encourage people to continue to apply by phone, by mail, or by finding local help in their community. The fact is, the product of the Affordable Care Act, the marketplace, will work. The product is not going away, and the people are not going to continue to wait. We know the price is not changing. We know Americans have time to apply and enroll in affordable coverage.

Thank you, Chairman Camp.

REP. DAVE CAMP, R-MI, CHAIR, WAYS AND MEANS CMTE.: Well, thank you. Administrator Tavenner, how many people have enrolled in the exchanges?

TAVENNER: Chairman Camp, that number will not be available until mid-November. We have over 700,000 who have completed applications.

CAMP: So you know the applicants, but do you know the enrollees? Do you have an idea of how many of those applicants became enrollees? Because that's really the number that matters.

TAVENNER: We will not know that until mid-November. We expect the initial number to be small -- and I think you've seen that in our projections -- and that was the Massachusetts experience, as well.

CAMP: I have to tell you, the numbers that I've hearing from insurers in my home state of Michigan are not good. In fact, of enrollees, a very small number. In fact, I have to have a meeting in my office and have them all fit in of people that have successfully enrolled in the plans.

I understand that CMS's stated goal is 7 million enrollees by the end of March.

Is that correct?

TAVENNER: That's correct.

CAMP: And I think critically important of that 7 million, 2.3 million of those need to be young and healthy. I think those are your metrics, is that correct?

TAVENNER: I don't have that metric with me, but I'll check on it.

CAMP: OK. I believe those are numbers that CMS has put out. The Associated Press reported in early September that there was a memo prepared for the assistant -- by the assistant secretary for planning and health. Are you aware of that press story and that memo? I think it went through your office to Secretary Sebelius.

TAVENNER: That went through the enrollment numbers?

CAMP: Yes. And it said that there were month-to-month predictions of enrollment numbers showing a path to the 7 million that I mentioned. Could you make that memo available to the committee?

TAVENNER: Certainly.

CAMP: According to the press report, that the memo estimated that 494,620 people would sign up for health insurance under the program by October 31st. We're obviously very near that date. Have you met that estimate?

TAVENNER: We will not have those numbers available until mid- November.

CAMP: So do you not know, do you not have any idea of how many people have enrolled? Or you...

TAVENNER: Folks are still in the process of enrolling, both at -- in the state-based exchanges and in the federal exchange, and we will have those numbers available in mid-November.

CAMP: Are you getting those numbers?

TAVENNER: Am I getting those numbers? Not yet, not from the state.

CAMP: You have no numbers on who's enrolled, so you have no idea?

TAVENNER: We'll have those numbers available mid-November.

CAMP: So no one is forwarding even weekly updates on...

TAVENNER: I think you've seen some of the press, and I think that was on the graph earlier, about what states have listed. We will get those numbers in mid-November.

CAMP: But -- I understand you're not publicly releasing those numbers, but I'm asking, do you have any idea of -- on a weekly basis, how many people enrolled? how do you not know how many people have enrolled?

TAVENNER: Chairman Camp, we will have those numbers available mid-November.

CAMP: But is your staff updating you on those? Are you getting those on a periodic basis? I realize you're not prepared to give this to the committee, even though this is a government program and we're trying to do oversight here and understand what the problems are, but do have some idea of what those problems might be in terms of the numbers?

TAVENNER: I'm not quite sure what you're asking.

CAMP: Well, you've said that 700,000 people have completed the application process. So, clearly, you're getting some information. Do you have any idea of how many of those can move to the next step of enrolling -- looking at plans?


CAMP: How many are eligible?

TAVENNER: Once (inaudible)...


CAMP: How many have decided to enroll?

TAVENNER: Once individuals complete the application, then they go into the shopping experience where they can look at plans.

We get -- we do get numbers on the number of applications and then we need to break those out. And that's what I'm saying -- this is part of the roll-out that we will give in mid-November for the October data.

CAMP: OK. So, you do have the applications, which is the 700,000 number...


CAMP: But you don't have how many people successfully enrolled?

TAVENNER: I'm saying people are still in the process of enrolling.

CAMP: Of those 700,000, do you know how many of those are eligible for Medicaid at this point?

TAVENNER: We -- we have some information on who is eligible for Medicaid and then obviously states have their own information about that. And it depends on whether a state has expanded or not and what's going inside. It's very state-specific.

CAMP: Can you share with the committee the information you have about those that have enrolled that are eligible for Medicaid?

TAVENNER: We will also have that information available in mid- November, as well.

CAMP: Because that would mean of those 700,000, a significant portion could not be enrolling the -- would not be in the exchange, if they're qualifying for Medicaid. Isn't that correct?

TAVENNER: We will have that information available to you in mid- November. CAMP: Yeah, but the law is that if they're eligible for Medicaid, they're not enrolling in the exchange. That's my question.

TAVENNER: Correct.

CAMP: So, there could be a significant portion of that 700,000 that would not be enrolling in an exchange. Is that correct?

TAVENNER: There could be numbers in there that will be eligible for Medicaid. That's correct.

CAMP: Do you know how many of the 700,000 have qualified employer sponsored insurance and therefore will not be eligible for the exchange?

TAVENNER: Those individuals who have employer sponsored insurance usually, at the end of the application, they're asked that. And if that's the case, they usually don't proceed.

CAMP: Do you know how many of those 700,000 are young adults, say, under the age of 26, who might choose to say on their parents' plan, if it's cheaper?

TAVENNER: I do not.

CAMP: And do you know how many are undocumented aliens and who may not be eligible to enroll in the exchange?

TAVENNER: So, as you are aware, we actually have a connection through the data hub to check for that. And if they are not eligible, they do not complete the application. They do not go on to shop.

CAMP: But of these 700,000, do you have any idea how many are just looking and how many are trying to enroll?

TAVENNER: We actually look at the people who are shopping. And the -- obviously, the majority of the people who are completing applications are there to actually purchase insurance. And so, they continue to go through the shopping experience.

CAMP: Well, there are media reports that say as many as 80 percent of that 700,000 number are -- are actually eligible for Medicaid.

TAVENNER: I don't...

CAMP: Is that a number you'd dispute?

TAVENNER: I don't know where that media report is or how they would get that information.

CAMP: Well, if that's true -- I mean, that's the only information we're getting, frankly, today. I frankly would've hoped for a little bit more from you.

But if that's true, then less than 140,000 of these applicants are potentially enrollees in the exchange, and that's assuming they don't have employer provided coverage; that's assuming they can't stay on their parents plan or otherwise ineligible in some other way.

But that means you're likely to hit less than one quarter of this October estimate of 494,620.

How many people did you estimate would enroll between November 15th and December 15th, which we're two weeks off from that period?

TAVENNER: I don't have that in front of me. I'd be happy to get you that information.

CAMP: If you could get that to the committee, I'd certainly appreciate that.

But I think given that the backend systems aren't working and insurers have resorted to manually enrolling people one by one, I just think the system doesn't literally have the human resource capacity to manually enroll the numbers that are being projected here.

I assume that many people are holding off -- are the young and healthy. So, the risk pools in these exchanges are not going to align with the projections.

So, I think not only are we going to miss the 7 million enrollee target, it appears that we're going to miss the demographic makeup, as well. And that's going to be very important to have a functioning system.

If the demographics are wrong and there aren't as many young people enrolling, what happens then? What happens to premiums?

TAVENNER: I think the premiums are locked down for 2014. So, obviously, the next six months of enrollment are critical. And I'll remind you that enrollment does occur until March 31st of 2014.

I will also remind you that the Massachusetts experience was very slow, initially, and that it started to ramp up over time. We expect the same type of projections.

CAMP: But it doesn't look like you're even meeting your own projections that you had prepared.

TAVENNER: I have not listed any information on enrollment. I think there are some assumptions you're making.

CAMP: Well, I'm just referring to this Associated Press memo that I appreciate you're willing to give to the committee that said that half a million people would sign up by October 31st and that they would enroll.

But if -- if we don't meet this demographic of 2.3 million young people, I mean, it's very clear that premiums will go through the roof, whether in the next few months or in the future.

And if that's where we're headed, and it appears that we are, how will you provide relief to individual Americans who don't want or can't afford this insurance and how do we prevent the premium spike in 2015 as insurers will readjust their prices to reflect the actual enrollee demographic?

TAVENNER: Currently, if you look at the premiums for 2014, we did not see premium spikes. We actually saw a very competitive marketplace.

In fact, we have over 200 issuers, just in the federal exchange alone, who have (ph) offering more than 3,000 plans at very competitive prices. Some markets have as many as 54 plans in a market.

We've also seen 25 percent new issuers in markets. So far, what we've seen is the absolute opposite of what you're suggesting.

CAMP: Have you enrolled in the (ph) plan?

TAVENNER: I have employer sponsored insurance. I would not be eligible for the plan.

CAMP: From the federal government? Is that what you mean?


CAMP: So, you're not participating in Obamacare?

TAVENNER: I'm participating in employer sponsored insurance, which...

CAMP: The government.

TAVENNER: Eighty-five (ph) percent of the country does (ph).

CAMP: So, you have government insurance. So, you're not -- you're not -- have you gone on the site and tried to enroll or tried to shop for plans?

TAVENNER: I haven't gone on to shop for the plans. I went on and actually signed up for an account, just to see what it looked like and go through the application process, but did not sign up for coverage. I'm not eligible for coverage nor did I shop.

CAMP: I just want to mention to you a letter that I received from my district. And this man wrote me and said, "My wife has been recently informed by her insurance carrier that her healthcare policy does not comply with the Affordable Care Act. Now we must purchase a new policy to get the same coverage at an 18 percent increase in our premium."

So what happened to the "if you like your insurance, you can keep it" question? What would you say to that individual?

TAVENNER: Well, I would take them to back to pre-Affordable Care Act days where, in fact, if you were in the individual market, you were living at a 50 percent turn (ph). Half the people in the individual market prior to 2010 didn't stay on their policies. They were either (ph) kicked off for preexisting condition, they saw their premiums go up at least 20 percent a year and there were not protections for them.

And sometimes, they were on plans that they thought were fine until they actually needed hospitalization. Then they found out it didn't cover hospitalization or it didn't cover cancer.

So I would take them back to the fact that since 1986, there -- healthcare cost and coverage have been the number one issue for small businesses for the last 20 to 30 years and we've been talking about it for the last 20 or 30 years. That's actually why I came into this job, is to try to deal with this issue.

So now, what I would say is this: Now, if in fact the issuer has decided to change the plan -- didn't have to -- plans were grandfathered in 2010 if they didn't make significant changes in cost sharing and this sort of thing, they could keep the plan that they had.

But some insurance companies have decided, and I think that's what you were referring to in your opening statement, that they want to offer new plans.

And if they offer new plans, they have to come in to the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, which are you have to offer the 10 essential coverage benefits, you cannot judge people on preexisting, you cannot discriminate based on sex -- there are lots of things that are required under the Affordable Care Act that actually protect consumers.

But these premium increases were going on a long time prior to the Affordable Care Act. And in we've seen the most premium moderation in the last three years than we've seen probably in 15 or 20 years.

That's what I would say to them. I'd try to explain to them the real issues.

CAMP: Well, the -- the -- the carrier told them that the plan didn't comply. So -- but nothing you said had anything to do with how they can get their cost down. And I think that's the real problem that we're seeing here is that the costs...


TAVENNER: Right. So, what I would tell that individual is that if their carrier is telling them they're changing the plan and they're offering an increase that they would -- they would need to go take a look at what's available in their state and in their market, which is certainly something that's available to them through the exchange.

CAMP: Yes, at -- at an 18 percent increase.

All right, with that I'll (inaudible) Levin. REP. SANDY LEVIN, D-MI, RANKING MEMBER, WAYS AND MEANS CMTE.: Well, thank you. A warm welcome. The chairman talkedabout the -- the website, and you said it's going to be fixed. And I might say if everybody would pitch in to make it work, the goals that have been set, would be more readily met.

That's what happened with the prescription drug program.