WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s top health official apologized
on today for the botched roll-out of the government’s health care website,
acknowledging it was a “debacle”, while also blaming insurers for cancelling
coverage for hundreds of thousands of people.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, testifying
at a congressional hearing on the troubled website at the heart of Obama’s
health care overhaul, vowed to win back the confidence of millions of
“Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible,” Sebelius said
in response to questions from Marsha Blackburn, the Republican US
Representative of Tennessee, about who was responsible for problems that
have prevented people from signing up for health care insurance plans.
Technical glitches have dogged the Healthcare.gov since its launch
on October 1, preventing many people from signing up for insurance plans.
But critics of Obamacare have seized on the hundreds of thousands of
Americans due to lose their current plans because they fail to include essential
benefits required by the law and are asking whether Obama misrepresented
Sebelius, the cabinet official spearheading the implementation of the 2010
Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, drew intense criticism
from Republicans, including Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and
Commerce Committee. Upton accused Obama of breaking a 2009 promise
that people with insurance could keep their current plans.
“They are now receiving termination notices, and for those who lose the
coverage they like, they may also be losing faith in their government,” the
Michigan Republican said.
Sebelius defended the administration by describing hundreds of thousands
who have received cancellation notices as the victims of a market long
known for discriminating against the sick, cancelling policies and selling
“The individual market . . . anywhere in the country has never had
consumer protections. People are on their own. They can be locked out,
priced out, dumped out,” by insurers, Sebelius said.
Sebelius said Obama had not broken his promise because plans that have
existed since the law was signed have had the option of remaining unchanged.
Democrats on the committee rallied to the administration’s position by
pointing out that insurance policies being cancelled would be replaced by
better plans that meet higher standards under Obamacare.
“I would urge my colleagues to stop hyperventilating,” said Representative
Henry Waxman of California, the committee’s top Democrat.
Sebelius has become a political punching bag for Republicans who have
repeatedly called on her to resign over the flawed roll-out of the website. The
White House continues to support her.
“I am as frustrated and angry as anyone with the flawed launch of
Healthcare.gov,” Sebelius testified. “So let me say directly to these
Americans: You deserve better. I apologize.” (Reuters)