Healthcare.gov is not fatally flawed and shutting down the glitchy health insurance website to repair it will not help, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a Senate hearing Wednesday. She said the site can be fixed while it is in operation.
"You don't gain much for taking the system down for just a week or a couple of weeks," Sebelius said at a Senate Finance Committee hearing.
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Sebelius gave her Senate testimony a week after appearing before a House committee and conceding the launch of HealthCare.gov had been a "debacle."
"I am accountable to this committee and the American public for getting these fixes in place," she said, promising the site would be fixed by the end of this month.
The administration says it is working around the clock with the help of outside tech advisers to resolve problems that have plagued HealthCare.gov since it opened on Oct. 1 and reduced an expected flood of new enrollees to a trickle.
Continued problems and revelations about people facing health plan cancellations have led to growing anxiety among Democrats. Some, including Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, have said the enrollment period may have to be delayed.
Sebelius explained that the government has added contractors from the private sector to try to improve the consumer experience for the federal healthcare exchanges.
"Delay is not an option. We are still at the beginning of a six-month open enrollment that ends at the end of March, and there's plenty of time to sign up for the new plans," she said.
Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the panel's top Republican, blasted Sebelius for earlier assurances that the rollout would go smoothly and a "cavalier" administration attitude that had brought only "broken promises" to millions of uninsured Americans and those with coverage who are now seeing their plans canceled.
"More and more promises made at the time this law was passed are now crumbling under the weight of reality on a daily basis," he said. "While I am glad that you are accepting responsibility for this disastrous rollout, I would have preferred that you and the rest of the administration were honest with us to begin with."
Baucus, in his introductory remarks, urged Sebelius to reject calls for her resignation and to stay on to oversee improvements to the insurance exchanges.
"Some people have called for your resignation. To borrow Kennedy's words, we cannot fix the blame for the past. You need to stay at Health and Human Services and help get the marketplaces working, said Baucus.
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Under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, it is mandatory for everyone to have health insurance or pay a fine. Republicans oppose the plan on the grounds that it is an unwarranted expansion of the federal government.
—By CNBC.com with Reuters.