WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s top health care official told Congress on Wednesday that she’s responsible for the “debacle” of cascading technical problems that overwhelmed a government website intended to make shopping for health insurance clear and simple.
“Hold me accountable for the debacle,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said during a contentious hearing before the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. “I’m responsible.”
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Sebelius is promising to have the problems fixed by Nov. 30, even as Republicans opposed to Obama’s health care law are calling in chorus for her resignation. She told the committee that the technical issues that led to frozen screens and error messages are being cleared up on a daily basis.
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But even as she started her testimony, some consumers trying to log into the federal website that serves 36 states were getting this message: “The system is down at the moment. We are experiencing technical difficulties and hope to have them resolved soon. Please try again later.”
The website was intended to be the online gateway to coverage for millions of uninsured Americans, as well those who purchase their policies individually. Many people in the latter group will have to get new insurance next year, because their policies do not meet the standards of the new law.
Sebelius’ forthright statement about her ultimate accountability came as she was being peppered with questions by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., about who was responsible. It was Blackburn who introduced the term “debacle.”
Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee, scoffed at Republican “oversight” of a law they have repeatedly tried to repeal.
“I would urge my colleagues to stop hyperventilating,” said Waxman. “The problems with HealthCare.gov are unfortunate and we should investigate them, but they will be fixed. And then every American will have — finally have access to affordable health insurance.”
Sebelius entered a hearing room so packed with lawmakers, photographers and others that she had trouble finding a path to her seat after shaking hands with the committee members.
Many in the crowd chuckled at her quandary, which was far easier to negotiate than the questions that awaited her about the messy launch of Obama’s health care web site. The crowd parted, and she found her way to her seat at the witness table, facing a wall of expectant lawmakers.