The Obama administration's top health official, Kathleen Sebelius, said Monday that she doesn't know how many people have signed up for health insurance through the new Obamacare exchanges.
In a somewhat awkward interview on The Daily Show, the Health and Human Services secretary told host Jon Stewart, "I can't tell you, because I don't know" how many people have enrolled in health care plans under the Affordable Care Act.
"But I can tell you we've had not only lots of web hits, hundreds of thousands of accounts created," she said. "This is like a Kayak site, where you might check out what plane you want to get on. The good news is you don't have to buy it today."
The interview came as the Obamacare website, designed to enroll millions of Americans into new health plans, suffered several days of glitches and downtime.
Stewart pressed Sebelius on the Obama administration's decision to delay key parts of the law for large businesses but not for individuals. "I would think, well jeez, it looks like because I don't have a lobbying group ... You were favoring big business because they lobbied you to delay it," he said.
Sebelius denied that was the case, saying employers are already supplying 85% of Americans with health care.
"Let me ask you this, am I a stupid man?" an overwhelmed Stewart asked after a back-and-forth on waivers from the law. "I don't think so," Sebelius said.
The health secretary went on to explain that Americans not interested in buying health insurance can instead opt to pay a fine. "The theory is they can't pick and choose if they're going to get hit by a bus or diagnosed with an illness," she said.
"I'm still not sure why individuals can't delay," a frustrated Stewart repeated as he went to commercial.
The comedy host later said it appeared the Obamacare program was "functioning at what seems to be a level of incompetence that is larger than what it should be" and that some businesses were cutting workers' hours to avoid having to provide health care under the new regulations.
Sebelius said there was no evidence that was the case. "At least the economists, not anecdotal folks, but economists, say there is absolutely no evidence that part-time work is going up. In fact, it's going down," she said.
"But there will be people that will end up in difficult times having to spend money they would not have spent, yes? To buy health care if they did not want it," Stewart asked.
"There are people, who will, yes, pay money," Sebelius conceded.
Stewart then made the case for a single-payer health care system, insisting it would have been far simpler to implement.
Sebelius said the administration was already facing "the end of the Western civilization by having a market-based strategy" with the current law. "I think the president did not want to dismantle the health care that 85% of the country had and start all over again," she said.
In a short segment following the interview, Stewart questioned Sebelius' honesty on the health law.
"I still don't understand why individuals have to sign up and businesses don't, because if the businesses, if she's saying, 'Well, they get a delay because that doesn't matter anyway because they already give health care,' then you think to yourself, 'Well fuck it, then why do they have to sign up at all?'" Stewart said. "But then I think to myself, 'Well, maybe she's just lying to me — just to me.'"
Jon Passantino is a deputy news director for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Jon Passantino at email@example.com.
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