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Obamacare website chief apologises for errors and promises site will be fixed

01 Nov

Marilyn Tavenner admits healthcare.gov site had ‘not worked as well as it should’ but vague testimony irks committee members

    • Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Marilyn Tavenner was repeatedly grilled over the botched rollout. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

The government official responsible for the Obamacare enrolment website has apologised for the series of problems that have kept Americans from signing up for healthcare coverage, but repeatedly refused to say how many people had successfully enrolled in an insurance plan.

Marilyn Tavenner, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, admitted that the healthcare.gov website had “not worked as well as it should” as she began her testimony before the House ways and means committee on Tuesday.

She was repeatedly grilled over the botched rollout, which froze on the day it was launched and has since been subject to widespread problems. In particular, she was pressed to give more details about how many people had successfully signed up to an insurance plan through the website.

The government has been repeatedly criticised over its handling of the implementation of Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act.

On Monday it emerged that the Obama administration knew that millions of Americans would not be able to remain on their own health insurance plans as their policies do not meet the standard mandated by the Obamacare law.

“To the millions of Americans who’ve attempted to use HealthCare.gov to shop and enrol in healthcare coverage, I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should. We know how desperately you need affordable coverage,” Tavenner said in her testimony to the committee.

She said the website “can and will be fixed” and that her team were already seeing improvements with the service.

But challenged by committee chairman Dave Camp, a Republican from Michigan, to provide the number of people who had been able enrol for health insurance, Tavenner said the government did not have the figures. “We will have those numbers available in mid-November,” Tavenner said repeatedly.

Tavenner is the first Obama official to testify about the launch of the Healthcare.gov website. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, along with outside contractors, handled the day-to-day work of setting up the site.

She said there had been 700,000 applications for health insurance submitted so far, but could not answer Camp’s repeated questions about the number of those applicants who had actually enrolled in the service.

The lack of information irked a clearly frustrated Camp, who told Tavenner: “I frankly would have hoped for a little more from you.”

A memo leaked to the Associated Press and published on 16 Octobershowed that the Obama administration hoped that 494,620 people would have enrolled for health insurance under the program by 31 October. The memo, which was for the attention of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, predicted that enrolment would reach 3.3 million nationally by 31 December.

The White House aims to have 7m people enrolled in healthcare by 31 March 2014. The administration has released various statistics on the numbers of people visiting the website, opening accounts and having their income verified by the Internal Revenue Service, but is yet to say how many have successfully signed up.

NBC News reported on Monday that millions of Americans are due to be thrown off their existing health insurance policies because of the new law, despite repeated assurances from Obama that those who had their own policies would be able to keep them.

Sources involved in the Affordable Care Act told NBC that “50 to 75 percent of the 14 million consumers who buy their insurance individually can expect to receive a ‘cancellation’ letter or the equivalent over the next year”.

The news channel said those individuals would be unable to remain on their policies as they do not meet the standards mandated by the new healthcare law.

Obama is to travel to Boston on Tuesday, where he’ll compare the federal healthcare program with Massachusetts’, which provided a blueprint for Obamacare.

After Massachusetts passed its landmark law in 2006, few people signed up at first – most waited for the deadlines to finalise their coverage decisions. Today, the law remains popular.

“Imagine the stories that were probably generated at the time about how the whole thing was going to fail when, in fact, the opposite turned out to be true,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

 

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