Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is under fire for the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
(Photo: Laura Segall, Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized to Americans Tuesday for the troubled rollout of the national health care law and its plagued website.
"You deserve better," Sebelius said as she began her testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "I apologize. I'm accountable to you for fixing these problems."
As GOP calls for her resignation grow louder, Sebelius will get intense grilling from the panel - which is hearing from the embattled health care secretary for the first time since HealthCare.gov went live on Oct. 1.
In a heated exchange with Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Sebelius shot back: "Hold me accountable for the debacle. I'm responsible."
Sebelius said the government so far has spent $118 million on the website and another $56 million on "IT support" for the website."
Sebelius' testimony comes the day after Marilyn Tavenner, the director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Obama administration official closest to the website's management, apologized for the botched rollout.
HealthCare.gov has been shaky since its debut on Oct. 1, when open enrollment began under the Affordable Care Act. The law, which passed with no Republican support, was signed by President Obama with great fanfare in 2010 as a key to overhauling the nation's complex health care system and providing insurance to millions of people who are currently without such coverage.
Obama has stood by Sebelius, a former Kansas governor, and has embarked on his own campaign to tout the law's benefits and move away from the website debacle. The president will speak Wednesday afternoon in Boston, to illustrate the success of Massachusetts' health care law - the basis for the Affordable Care Act.
Jeffrey Zients, a former White House budget deputy, said the site will be fixed by Nov. 30. Sebelius' testimony says HHS has updated the website's technology with new code and help from experts inside and outside of government.
But until HealthCare.gov gets a clean bill of health, congressional Republicans are sure to keep using the website as a focal point in their arguments that the law is an unwieldy and costly example of government intrusion.
While the administration says more than 700,000 people have created accounts to buy insurance on state and federal health exchanges since Oct. 1, Tavenner and other officials have not disclosed how many people have actually enrolled through the online network.