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Sebelius: 'Hold me responsible for the debacle'



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The early Healthcare.gov access has been a "miserably frustrating experience for way too many Americans," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday, apologizing for those frustrations.

"I don't think anyone ever estimated the degree to which we've had problems in the system," she said in sworn testimony before a House committee.

Many Republicans have called for her resignation, which she has so far resisted.

She also acknowledged that the frustration wasn't just among consumers—insurers have been left hanging by the site's problems.

"I would tell you right now it's not reliable data. According to the insurance companies who are eager to have customers, they are not getting reliable data all the way through the system," Sebelius said.

Sebelius told the House Energy and Commerce Committee she's accountable for fixing the problems—by the end of November.

"Michelle Snyder is not responsible for the debacle, hold me responsible for the debacle," Sebelius said, resisting efforts to assign blame to Snyder, the chief operating officer for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

She added that the system is getting better by the day.

But as the hearing got underway, consumers trying to log in from Virginia got this message: "The system is down at the moment."

"The website has never crashed. It is functional but at a very slow speed and very low reliability," Sebelius acknowledged.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the troubled launch of the Healthcare.gov website October 30, 2013 in Washington, DC
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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the troubled launch of the Healthcare.gov website October 30, 2013 in Washington, DC

On Tuesday, Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner was questioned for nearly three hours by members of the House Ways and Means Committee who wanted to know why so many of their constituents were getting cancellation notices from their insurance companies.

"So what happened to the `If you like your insurance, you can keep it' question?" asked Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Camp was referring to one of Obama's earliest promises about the health law: You can keep your plan if you like it. Obama's promise dates back to June 2009, when Congress was starting to grapple with overhauling the health care system to cover uninsured Americans.

As early as last spring, state insurance commissioners started giving insurers the option of canceling existing individual plans for 2014, because the coverage required under Obama's law is significantly more robust. Some states directed insurers to issue cancellations. Large employer plans that cover most workers and their families are unlikely to be affected.

The law includes a complicated "grandfathering" system to try to make good on Obama's pledge. It shields plans from the law's requirements provided the plans themselves change very little. Insurers say it has proven impractical. The cancellation notices are now reaching policyholders.

Tavenner blamed insurance companies for cancelling the policies and said most people who lose coverage will be able to find better replacement plans in the health insurance exchanges, in some cases for less money. Change is a constant in the individual insurance market, she added, saying that about half of plans "churn" over in any given year.

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