Photo by the Associated Press
(NBC NEWS) -- The head of the agency running the troubled federal government health
insurance website apologized for the website's problems Tuesday,
promising they will be fixed.
But Centers for Medicare and
Medicaid Services administrator Marilyn Tavenner insisted the website,
the crowning glory of 2010 Affordable Care Act, was working and would eventually work better.
want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it
should," Tavenner said, and promised the administration is working on
"This healthcare.gov site is fixable," she said. "The
system is working. It's just not working as smoothly and consistently as
we want," she added later.
Tavenner's boss, Health and Human
Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, made similar promises for a quick
fix in written testimony submitted to the House Energy and Commerce
Committee, where she was scheduled to testify Wednesday.
initial consumer experience of HealthCare.gov has not lived up to the
expectations of the American people and is not acceptable. We are
committed to fixing these problems as soon as possible," Sebelius wrote. The administration has promised the site will work smoothly by the end of November.
also pushed back against allegations that the administration misled
people about whether they could keep health plans they liked, saying any
canceled plans were scrapped by insurers who knew they were not meeting
the law's requirements.
"Some insurance companies have decided
that they want to offer new plans and if they offer new plans they have
to come under the requirements of the Affordable Care Act," she said.
This includes providing 10 "essential benefits" such as free cancer
screening, as well as covering people even if their care starts to get
very expensive. "You can't be denied, you can't be kicked off a policy,"
Members of the House Ways and Means Committee
demanded to know why Americans should trust that the troubled website,
or even the entire health care law, will ever work.
website can eventually be fixed, the widespread problems of Obamacare
cannot," panel chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, said. "These
problems can't be fixed through a tech surge."
who did not vote to pass the 2010 Affordable Care Act and who have voted
more than 40 times to repeal it, say they won't stop trying. "There is
no way to fix this monstrosity, said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).
"We want to repeal Obamacare and replace it with patient-centered health
Texas Republican Kevin Brady asked Tavenner why the site
wasn't ready sooner. "You have had nearly four years to get it ready,"
Brady said. "Why should the American people believe you now?"
said technicians had added capacity to the website, and that experts
were tackling glitches one by one. "That is the gradual improvement you
will see over the next four weeks, and that is why we are confident,"
Sebelius blamed the contractors. "CMS has a track record
of successfully overseeing the many contractors our programs depend on
to function. Unfortunately, a subset of those contracts for
HealthCare.gov have not met expectations," she said in her written
testimony for Wednesday.
One of the contractors who failed was Virginia-based CGI, Tavenner said. Last week, CGI said the site was tested in the last two weeks before launch when months would have been better.
said he doubted government could ever manage something as complex as
healthcare. "The flaw is not in the website," he said. "The flaw is in
the law itself." Later, he added: "The clock is ticking on a website
that is broken. My constituents are scared."
There was a little
drama. Georgia Democrat John Lewis spoke passionately in favor of the
law. "I happen to believe that health care is a right and not a
privilege," Lewis said, thumping the desk in emphasis. "It is not just
for the fortunate few but all citizens of America," he added. "The
Affordable Care Act is working."
Camp also noted recent reports
that tens of thousands of people have had their policies canceled. "In
fact, based on what little information the Administration has disclosed,
it turns out that more people have received cancellation notices for
their health care plans this month than have enrolled in the exchanges,"
The White House says the plans are being canceled
because they don't meet the law's new tight requirements for coverage.
Health industry experts told NBC News the White House should have known so many people would have to buy new policies, often pricier ones.
said people outraged over having to buy new policies may be better off
than they realize. "Sometimes they thought they had coverage when they
did not," Tavenner said. "Now some of them (the new policies) are
moving to the new standards."
But Illinois Republican Peter Roskam
read Obama's previous promises that people could keep their health
insurance policies if they liked them. "He repeated it, he repeated it,
he repeated it," Roskam said.
"Is that a lie?" Illinois Republican Peter Schock asked later.
the hearing, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said
the White House could have said it better. "I don't think the message
was wrong, I think the message was accurate," Hoyer said. "It was not
precise enough in saying that. It should have been caveated with
'assuming you have a policy that in fact does do what the bill is
designed to do.'"
Another Maryland Republican, Chris Van Hollen,
denies there was ever any misunderstanding. "You buy health policies at
12 months at a time," he told CNBC.
"There is no guarantee. There was no guarantee before the Affordable
Care Act that you would be able to get the same policy and the same
Camp repeatedly asked Tavenner about how many people had
actually enrolled in a health insurance plan. Tavenner stood firm,
saying those numbers would not be ready until mid-November.
administration has appointed the new White House economic adviser, Jeff
Zients, and one of the contractors that helped build the website, QSSI,
to head repairs. Tavenner repeated pledges that the site would be
working smoothly by the end of November, giving people two weeks to sign
up in time to get health insurance coverage on the earliest possible
date, January 1, 2014.
She said CMS did not anticipate the
problems that have plagued the site, and didn't at first understand how
severe they were when the site opened, and almost immediately crashed,
on Oct. 1. "The problems we saw in the first week, we attributed to the
volume," she said.
"There are always going to be issued with a new website, what we call the customary glitches that you see, but not this."
said she never recommending delaying the Oct. 1 launch, although she
did recommend that the Spanish-language site and the site for small
businesses be delayed.
And Tavenner said people are satisfied with
the Affordable Care Act's provisions providing broader insurance
coverage, often with generous government subsidies to pay premiums.
"They like what they are getting how," she said.
this out in her testimony, also, saying that competition among the
insurance companies taking part in the exchanges was bringing prices
"A recent Kaiser Family Foundation report found that,
'while premiums will vary significantly across the country, they are
generally lower than expected,' and that 15 of the 18 states examined
would have premiums below the Congressional Budget Office-projected
national average of $320 per month for a 40-year-old in a silver plan,"
People have until March 31 to sign up for next year before they may face a penalty from the Internal Revenue Service.