Washington (AFP) – The top U.S. health official will issue a trenchant defence of “Obamacare” on Wednesday, defying critics who have savaged the White House over how the reforms were leaving some Americans uninsured.
Under-fire Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will be the most senior Obama administration official to date to appear before Congress to discuss the troubled launch of HealthCare.gov.
And while she will acknowledge the various mis-steps in the website and the frustration it has caused Americans, Sebelius will drive home a message opposed by critics: President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement nicknamed Obamacare is working.
“The fact is that the Affordable Care Act delivered on its product: quality, affordable health insurance,” she will tell a House panel according to her testimony released Tuesday.
She also will stress that “tremendous interest” in the website is proof that Americans “want to buy this product.
“We know the initial consumer experience at HealthCare.gov has not been adequate. We will address these initial and any ongoing problems, and build a website that fully delivers on this promise of the Affordable Care Act.”
But amid those assurances, Sebelius also will deflect blame for the site to contractors, saying “unfortunately, a subset of those contracts for HealthCare.gov have not met expectations.”
As Sebelius’s testimony was released, a top lieutenant Marilyn Tavenner was apologizing for the website’s depressing debut, while insisting the online program is fixable.
Tavenner took heat at a hearing on problems with the October 1 rollout of the website through which millions of Americans are expected to sign up for health insurance.
“I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should,” Tavenner, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in the Department of Health and Human Services, told lawmakers at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing.
“The bottom line is, this healthcare website is fixable,” and CMS staff and contractors “are working around the clock” to improve the service.
But she dodged pointed questions about just how many people have enrolled in the system.