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By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday that health insurance exchanges that are now up and running across the country have given uninsured Americans a true choice of insurance plans with price comparisons.

“People have competitive choices and real information for the first time ever in this insurance market,” Sebelius said on NBC’s Meet The Press.

Before, she said, “individuals were really on their own” if they did not have insurance through an employer or the government. “If you were healthy and wealthy, you could get coverage,” she said, but not so if you were sick or struggling economically.

Sebelius, who resigned last week, conceded that her department had botched the rollout of the insurance exchanges at the beginning of October.

“If I had a magic wand, I’d go back to mid-September” and ask more probing questions, she said. “I thought I was getting the best information from the best experts,” but their confident prediction that the system was ready to go “was just flat-out wrong,” she said.

She described the following eight weeks as “a pretty dismal time” and the low point of her tenure as HHS chief. However, the computer glitches that plagued the program’s launch were subsequently resolved for the most part and enrollment numbers were up by December.

Sebelius said she decided early this year that the completion of the first open-enrollment cycle for the program was the best time for her to step down. She said she did not want to stay in the job until January 2017, when President Barack Obama’s second term will end, so the best option was to “leave with enough time that he would get a strong, competent leader” to head the department.

Obama last week nominated his White House budget director, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, to replace Sebelius.

AFP Photo/Karen Bleier

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