Democrats on Obamacare: ‘Let Us Not Despair but Act’

Democrats want fixes, but Republicans continued criticism at Obamacare hearing.

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 13: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks during a press conference at the Erie Family Health Center on February 13, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. Sebelius, with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, used the opportunity to promote cooperation between states and the federal government in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
National Journal
Clara Ritger
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Clara Ritger
Nov. 6, 2013, 7:11 a.m.

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.

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