HHS promises to repair exchange

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WASHINGTON — The federal health care insurance exchange will be fixed, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified late last month.

The secretary told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the online exchange’s problem-plagued rollout was a “debacle,” and that she took responsibility for it. The Obama administration has promised that the exchange website will be running smoothly by the end of November.

More than 30 House Republicans called for Sebelius’ resignation, as did had handful of senators.

Senior White House officials rejected the calls, saying their priority was to fix the problems. An administration spokesman said the president had “complete confidence” in Sebelius.

The secretary conceded that registering for a health care plan through HealthCare.gov was a “miserably frustrating experience for way too many Americans” — a message that Republicans reinforced by pointing to a screen that showed the website displaying an error message.

“I am as frustrated and angry as anyone with the flawed launch,” Sebelius told the committee. “So let me say directly to these Americans, you deserve better. I apologize. I’m accountable to you for fixing these problems. And I’m committed to earning your confidence back by fixing the site.”

Trying to make the best of the situation, she added that millions of Americans were eager to learn about their options and to achieve the health care security that is being made possible by the Affordable Care Act.

“My commitment is to deliver on that promise,” Sebelius said.

The secretary dismissed calls for holding off a tax penalty for Americans who did not have health insurance next year. Many legislators, including Democrats, have advocated delaying the extra levy.

“We’re still at the beginning of a six-month open enrollment,” Sebelius said. “There’s plenty of time to sign up.”

Despite its persistent problems, Sebelius stressed that the website has never crashed.
“It is functional, but at a very slow speed and very low reliability,” she said.

The secretary admitted that the administration lacked “reliable data” on how many Americans had enrolled in new plans. Given the problematic rollout, she said it has probably been “a very small number.”

Insurance companies reported receiving inadequate or confusing information, which Sebelius said was one of the “priority fixes.”

Critics suspected the administration was keeping back enrollment figures because the numbers were low. If registrations lag behind expectations it could jeopardize the ACA, especially if younger, healthier Americans do not sign up to offset the cost of insuring older enrollees with more illness.


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