WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that she had considered shutting down the problematic Obamacare website, but has no intention of delaying implementation of the nation’s new healthcare law.
“Delaying the Affordable Care Act wouldn’t delay people’s cancer, diabetes or Parkinson’s,” Sebelius said in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee. “Delay is not an option.”
In her second appearance on Capitol Hill since the botched Oct. 1 rollout of healthcare.gov, the secretary went on the offense as the administration retools its strategy to preserve President Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.
Sebelius took responsibility for the “miserably frustrating experience” of millions of Americans who have struggled to access the balky website. But she refused to yield to critics who want to delay or undo the Affordable Care Act, which requires all Americans to have health insurance by next March or face a tax penalty.
“Healthcare.gov is fixable, it isn’t fatally flawed,” Sebelius testified. She said the United States remains the only Western country “that doesn’t have healthcare as a basic right.”
The website is an online marketplace where Americans can shop for insurance policies. As her department considered whether to close the site until fixes can be made, Sebelius said she was advised against it by consultants and others working to resolve the problems.
“You don’t gain much,” she said.
The administration has promised to get the site fully functional by the end of November, and experts take it offline each night after midnight to work on improvements.
Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the panel, asked Sebelius to appear every month to update the committee on what he called an “absolute debacle.”
“The website’s not working, fine. But the law is not working,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).
Republicans have led the campaign against Obamacare, but Democrats have become increasingly concerned about the law they have championed.
“You’ve got to tell us what’s going on candidly, fully,” said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the committee and a chief architect of the law.