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Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner rapped for healthcare.gov glitches

Oct. 29, 2013 at 2:40 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- The agency head running the federal government health insurance website took heat Tuesday from some U.S. congressional Democrats for the site's botched rollout.

House Ways and Means Committee member Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., noted that while Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Marilyn Tavenner apologized for the website's problems, she said the administrator had to do right by the American people trying to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

"You also have to acknowledge that, that initial experience has done some damage to Americans' confidence in the website, in the marketplace and even potentially the options they would have available to get health [insurance] coverage. ... So, you know, going forward, there can be no more excuses," Schwartz said. "And we need to hear from you there is a path forward and you can be as specific and explicit as you possibly can be with us and with the public to help regain our confidence and the public's confidence in the ability of the administration and the subcontractors and contractors to get this right."

Rep. Xavier Beccera, D-Calif., said, "I think it's become very clear and I hope in all hearings that take place further, that we understand that we have to work together, because it is unacceptable to have an important part of the health insurance program, this website, not work the way it should."

In her opening remarks, Tavenner apologized because "the website has not worked as well as it should," she said. "It will be fixed."

It was the first congressional testimony from the Obama administration on the botched launch of healthcare.gov.

Tavenner said the "vast majority" of visitors would be able to successfully use the site by the end of November. She said the two main issues were the site's capacity, which has been corrected, and glitches in the application process itself, which are being repaired.

"And that is the gradual improvements that you will see over the next four weeks," Tavenner said. "And that's why I'm confident about the end of November."

In his opening remarks, committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said, "While a website can eventually be fixed, the widespread problems of Obamacare cannot.

"Almost daily we hear of reports of Obamacare increasing costs, harming job creation and forcing Americans off their current plans. These problems can't be fixed through a technical surge or tech surge, and they're not just a glitch in someone's healthcare coverage or job."

Asked repeatedly about the number of people who have enrolled using healthcare.gov and specifics about the types of people who enrolled, Tavenner said that information would be available in mid-November. She said at least 700,000 people had completed applications.

"People are losing coverage [and] their rates are going up," Camp said after the hearing. "We did not get any enrollment information from her today ... and that's a big disappointment."

She also was grilled by Republicans, relaying anecdotal information, who said their constituents could not keep their healthcare coverage if they liked it, contrary to what President Obama has said.

Tavenner explained that carriers were grandfathered if they maintained their coverage when they were grandfathered in. If they changed their coverage, they had to notify policyholders.

Democrats also chided Republicans about their seeming rush to judgment only four weeks after the website went live.

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., reminded the panel about the addition of a prescription drug plan added to Medicare during George W. Bush's presidency.

"The kinks of that rollout were brushed off," McDermott said. "We waited six months to hold an oversight hearing. We are barely four weeks into this one and we're already declaring it dead."

"We would have loved to see this launch be seamless and smooth, but we can't get caught up in the glitches and technical difficulties and lose our perspective," he said.

NBC News reported Monday more than 7 million Americans with health insurance plans that don't meet minimum standards under the new law would have to upgrade to the new, more expensive plans that meet the standards next year, which the network said meant those people would lose their current healthcare coverage.

The report alleged the Obama administration knew about this, despite continued assertions nothing in the Affordable Care Act required people to change what they had.

The network said the law's regulations in 2010 estimated 40 percent to 67 percent of customers would have to give up their existing policies because of the new minimum standards as well as normal insurance turnover.

In testimony prepared for her appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also acknowledged problems with healthcare.gov and that her department was working to correct them.

"The 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," she said in prepared testimony posted on the committee's website.

"The fact is, that the Affordable Care Act delivered on its product -- quality, affordable health insurance," she said in her prepared remarks. "The tremendous interest shown in healthcare.gov shows that people want to buy this product."

"We know the initial consumer experience at healthcare.gov has not been adequate," Sebelius said. "We will address these initial and any ongoing problems, and build a website that fully delivers on the promise of the Affordable Care Act."

Sibelius testifies Wednesday before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

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