Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Wednesday apologized for the troubles that have dragged down the web portal known as Heatlhcare.gov.
Technical delays on the web site have hampered the rollout of the new insurance marketplace created as part of the Affordable Care Act, creating barriers for people trying to log into the system, verify their identities and shop for coverage.
"You deserve better. I apologize," Sebelius told a Congressional committee in a hearing that attracted a throng of reporters and photographers.
"I'm accountable to you for fixing these problems."
Sebelius said she was wrong when she assured President Obama that the web site would be ready to launch on October 1, the first day that consumers could purchase health care using the site and qualify for subsidies available through the ACA.
As the face of the Affordable Care Act, Sebelius faced a withering barrage of questions about the functionality of site and other issues surrounding health care reform in general.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, quizzed Sebelius about the news that some Americans who already had plans on the individual health insurance market are receiving letters informing them their policies are being cancelled.
"People who had a plan, they like it, it was affordable, but it is being terminated and now they do not have health insurance," Blackburn told Sebelius.
Many of those policies don't meet the new minimum coverage standards of plans sold in the Affordable Care Act, and don't count as "affordable" because they don't offer a core set of essential benefits.
Plans that were bought before March 23, 2010 are still acceptable, or can be "grandfathered in," if nothing has changed since then, including features such as copays, co-insurance, and deductibles.
The health secretary said it was common for insurers to cancel policies at the end of the year, even before the Affordable Care Act.
She said those losing coverage will now be able to buy more comprehensive plans through the federal exchange, or state exchanges in states such as Minnesota.
"Your constituents will have a lot of options--" Sebelius replied, before Rep. Blackburn interrupted her.
"It's what they wanted," Blackburn told Sebelius.
"And I will remind you some people like to drive a Ford, not a Ferrari. And some people like to drink out of a red Solo cup and not a crystal stem!"
She noted that President Obama has said on many occasions that you don't have to use the health exchange to buy a new plan if you're happy with your current plan.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, said he believed the president was referring to people in employer-based plans, which cover the majority of private insurance customers.
Obama conceded Wednesday that roughly five percent of insurance customers in the nation bought policies on the individual market that don't meet the new standards laid out in the health reform act.
But, at a rally in Boston, he defended those standards as necessary to making the health care system sustainable.
"One of the things health reform was designed to do was to help not only the uninsured, but also the underinsured," Obama told a crowd of supporters.
"Those Americans who've got cut-rate plans that don't offer real financial protection in the event of a serious illness, or an accident."
He pointed out that, under the provisions of the ACA, insurers will no longer be able to deny coverage or raise premiums based on a person's health history.
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