Henry Waxman:Washington (United States) (AFP) – President Barack Obama’s health secretary publicly apologized Wednesday for the rocky rollout of the U.S. health care law’s new website, stressing that citizens “deserve better” from the system.
But while Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius regretted that navigating HealthCare.gov has been a “miserably frustrating experience” for many, she insisted that so-called “Obamacare” has been working well for millions of Americans.
For his part, Obama was to travel to Massachusetts later in the day to defend his signature reforms in the state where his former Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney adopted a similar system in 2006.
“Today, 97 percent of Massachusetts residents have health insurance coverage and the primary attacks against this law -– many of which we are hearing again today about the ACA –- never proved true,” a White House official said.
The pointwoman for the new health care law, however, sounded chastened about the trouble-plagued online portal through which millions are expected to register for health insurance.
“Let me say directly to these Americans: You deserve better. I apologize. I’m accountable to you for fixing these problems,” Sebelius, the seniormost administration official to testify before Congress on the health care law, told a closely-watched House panel.
And when Republican congresswoman Marsha Blackburn grilled her and suggested the secretary was seeking to pawn off responsibility on contractors like Verizon, where a breakdown took the site offline last weekend, Sebelius interrupted to say she herself would take the heat.
“Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible,” she said.
HealthCare.gov, which allows access to exchange marketplaces where Americans can purchase private insurance, debuted on October 1.
Committee chairman Fred Upton said he has seen little improvement in the website’s performance since then, noting that his staff was “hit with an error message” even as they tried to use the page early Wednesday.
“Sadly here we are now five weeks into enrollment and the news seems to get worse by the day,” Upton said.
“After more than three years to prepare, malfunctions have become the norm.”
Sebelius’s appearance marked the third congressional hearing in a week addressing the faulty start to Obamacare.
Critics like Blackburn have focused on how the health care law is booting millions of people off their plans, years after Obama told Americans that if they liked their health plan, they could keep it.
Sebelius countered that insurance companies routinely alter coverage in the individual market, and that people on these plans often hold them for less than a year.