WASHINGTON – The official charged with overseeing the online health marketplaces apologized Tuesday to a congressional panel for issues that have plagued the rollout of President Obama’s signature health law, but said she was confident the website problems would be fixed by the end of November.
“We know that consumers are eager to purchase this coverage, and to the millions of Americans who have attempted to use healthcare.gov to shop and enroll in healthcare coverage, I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should,” Marilyn Tavenner, the head of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told the House Ways and Means Committee. “This initial experience has not lived up to our expectations or the expectations of the American people, and it is not acceptable.”
Republicans, though, are broadening their focus from technical glitches at healthcare.gov to spotlight issues that could prove more problematic to the administration going forward, as some Americans without employer-sponsored health plans face increased premiums or loss of coverage because their previous insurance plans failed to meet new standards under the Affordable Care Act.
“No amount of website fixes can make right the president's broken promises that healthcare costs will be lowered by $2,500, or that Americans will be able to keep the plan they have and like,” said Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the Ways and Means chairman. “Instead of plowing forward with this unworkable law, the administration should, at a minimum, seriously consider delaying the law for families and individuals, just as it has done for big business. If they fail to do so, I fear we can see a fundamental breakdown of the insurance market.”
Even as she acknowledged problems with the online exchanges Tavenner, a former nurse and secretary of health and human resources in Virginia, highlighted successes of the law. Seventy-eight million Americans have saved $3.4 billion as insurance companies lowered rates to meet a requirement of the law, she said, and millions more already have coverage because of it.
And some website issues have already been improved, she said, noting that 90% of visitors can now create accounts and online transactions are occurring more efficiently. But she repeatedly declined to specify how many Americans have been able to enroll in plans through the exchanges, saying those figures would be released at a later date.
Tavenner’s appearance Tuesday precedes what will likely be a more contentious hearing Wednesday when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies before the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate health committee, called for Sebelius to resign. “At some point there has to be accountability,” Alexander said in remarks on the Senate floor. “Expecting this secretary to be able to fix what she hasn’t been able to fix during the last three and a half years is unrealistic. It’s throwing good money after bad. It’s time for her to resign, someone else to take charge. No private sector chief executive would escape accountability for such a poor performance.”
Separately Tuesday, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters that Republicans will continue to seek to repeal Obamacare and “replace it with patient-centered healthcare.”
“There is no way to fix this monstrosity,” he said. “The idea that the federal government is going to supply the health insurance for every American and write all the rules defies any sense from my standpoint.”
[For the Record, 12:09 p.m. PST Oct. 29: An earlier version of this post said Seventy-eight million Americans have saved $3.4 million due to Obamacare mandates. The correct figure is $3.4 billion.]
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