Republicans and Democrats clung to their traditional rhetoric as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified again before Congress, this time answering questions about the Obamacare website at the Senate Finance Committee.
The committee's Democrats told Sebelius the implementation of the president's signature legislative achievement must go smoothly to provide Americans with the affordable health care that the Obama administration promised, and that means a fully-functioning website by the end of November. "There is no room for error," said Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. "You must beat that deadline."
Meanwhile, Republicans expressed discontent with the law altogether, using the faulty website as a launching pad for complaints and questions about higher premiums, training for "navigators," assistance for small businesses, plan cancellations and data security.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, asked Sebelius to appear once a month for the next six months with updates about the implementation of the law. "I would have preferred that you and the rest of the administration were honest with us to begin with," Hatch said. "You had to have several indications before Oct. 1 that there were problems with the website and with the exchanges."
Baucus quoted John F. Kennedy in his opening remarks, providing "Let us not despair but act" as a mantra for getting the health law right. He said having the website running smoothly by Nov. 30 was not good enough and that, despite calls for her resignation, it was Sebelius's job to fix it. Sebelius committed to having the website fixed and operational.
"Access to HealthCare.gov has been a miserable experience for far too many Americans," she said.
However, she also called attention to progress that has been made. "We have a system in place to identify and fix bugs in the system," she said.
Where it once took eight seconds for pages to load, it now takes less than a second, she said. The agency can process approximately 17,000 registrants per hour "with almost no errors" and users are now seeing eligibility results, rather than blank screens, after completing an application. Faulty data sent to insurers continues to be an issue the agency is working on, however.
Sebelius said they would release the number of Americans who have successfully enrolled for Obamacare coverage next week.