Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that her team is working on some 200 fixes to the ailing federal health insurance Web site, and that once it is fixed, officials plan to formally “re-invite” people who were turned off by the technical glitches.
At a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Sebelius did not offer an exact date for when this outreach effort would begin.
“We don’t want to do that until we are sure that their experience will be significantly better than it was the first time,” she said.
It was the second time Sebelius has appeared on Capitol Hill since the troubled rollout of HealthCare.gov, which launched Oct. 1 amid major technical problems. Many people were locked out of the site, while others received incorrect information about subsidies for which they may qualify, and insurance companies got error-filled reports about enrollees.
This time, she sustained a great deal of friendly fire from Democratic senators who had been instrumental in the passage of the Affordable Care Act, as well as at least one personal friend.
Sebelius acknowledged that using HealthCare.gov had been a “miserably frustrating” experience for many users, and said she was accountable for the problems. “I recognize that there's an even higher level of accountability: accountability to the sick, the vulnerable, the struggling Americans who deserve better health care,” she said in her opening statement.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the committee and an architect of the health-care law, told Sebelius he was disappointed with the botched rollout and suggested that the administration take the Web site down for a couple of weeks to fully fix it. But he also chastised political foes of the law, who incorrectly cited his “train wreck” comments earlier this year as evidence that he had lost faith in it.
“Make no mistake, I believe in this law. I spent two years of my life working on the Affordable Care Act. There is nothing I want more to succeed,” he said. “But months ago I warned that if implementation did not improve, the marketplace might struggle…We heard multiple times that everything was on track. We now know that was not the case.”
Baucus was not the only Democrat to express his displeasure over the implementation thus far over the program. “As someone who has fought and bled for this, and who sincerely thinks that it's gonna work in the long run, I want you to hold them to account, I want you to burn their fingers and make 'em pay for not being responsible and producing a product that all of us could be proud,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), a personal friend of Sebelius’s, offered a devastating critique of the problems with the Web site and issues with the overall law, which he said is sowing fear and confusion. He reiterated his call that Sebelius should resign. The secretary was not asked to respond.