WASHINGTON (AP) — Prodded to be more candid with Congress, Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday the administration’s HealthCare.gov website needed a couple of hundred fixes when it went online more than a month ago.
“We’re not there yet” in making all needed repairs,” Sebelius conceded.
At the same time, she turned aside any suggestion that the system be taken off line until it could be fixed fully. Doing so “wouldn’t delay people’s cancer or diabetes or Parkinson’s” disease, she told the Senate Finance Committee.
Sebelius also said experts had told HHS that letting consumers continue to use the site can help with finding and fixing problems.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and the panel’s chairman, said Sebelius must be “candidly, fully totally” forthcoming with Congress about the repair effort, “so that we don’t wake up at the end of November and find out we’re not there yet.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the panel’s senior Republican, was harsher.
“While I am glad that you are accepting responsibility for this disastrous rollout, I would have preferred that you and the rest of the administration were honest with us to begin with,” he said.
“It is simply inexcusable that the members of this committee were not told earlier that these problems were occurring,” Hatch said.
Sebelius acknowledged that using HealthCare.gov — the troubled Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchange plan enrollment system — “has been frustrating for many Americans.”
But she told the Senate Finance Committee that the site’s problems are being steadily fixed and will operate smoothly for most people by the end of this month. And she said the insurance marketplaces that PPACA is setting up are resulting in lower rates, citing figures for some premiums that she said are 16 percent lower than estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and other data from Oregon, New York and elsewhere.
“The fact is that the Affordable Care Act delivered on the product: quality, affordable health insurance,” she said.
To the chagrin of increasingly nervous Democrats, Republicans are also on the attack about the millions of Americans whose health insurers have told them their current policies are being canceled. Obama has said that people who liked their coverage would be able to keep it.
Sebelius testified a week ago to the Republican-run House Energy and Commerce Committee.
At that confrontational session, she apologized for the troubles dogging the website where uninsured Americans and those buying coverage privately are supposed to be able to purchase health insurance. The secretary, who numerous Republicans have said should resign, has promised the site would be fixed by the end of this month and says it is secure.