Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius acknowledged problems with the startup of the health care law on Wednesday but defended it too, saying it is starting to drive down health care costs for consumers.
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In prepared testimony to a Senate committee, Sebelius acknowledged that using HealthCare.gov — the website where millions of people are supposed to be able to purchase coverage — “has been frustrating for many Americans.”
But she told the Senate Finance Committee that the site’s problems are being steadily fixed and will operate smoothly for most people by the end of this month. And she said the insurance marketplaces that the law is setting up are resulting in lower rates, citing figures for some premiums that she said are 16 percent lower than estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and other data from Oregon, New York and elsewhere.
“The fact is that the Affordable Care Act delivered on the product: quality, affordable health insurance,” she said.
Sebelius testified a week ago to the Republican-run House Energy and Commerce Committee.
At that confrontational session, she apologized for the troubles dogging the website where uninsured Americans and those buying coverage privately are supposed to be able to purchase health insurance. The secretary, who numerous Republicans have said should resign, has promised the site would be fixed by the end of this month and says it is secure.
Insurers are sending cancellation notices to customers whose current policies lack enough coverage to meet the law’s more demanding standards — at least 3.5 million Americans, according to an Associated Press survey of states.
The Obama administration has said people facing cancellations will be able to find better coverage from their current insurance company or on state or federal exchanges where competing policies are being offered.
On the defensive about the law, Democrats have started trying to refocus Americans on its benefits.
The law requires most Americans to have health coverage by the start of 2015 or face fines. Middle-class people who don’t get health insurance at work will qualify for federal subsidies for the private coverage they buy. More lower-income people will qualify for Medicaid in states that have agreed to expand that federal-state health care program for the poor.
“The real train wreck is what people are experiencing every day because they can’t afford care,” Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which he chairs.
At that hearing, Marilyn Tavenner, who runs the agency most directly involved in implementing the health care law, said the website was being improved.
“We obviously underestimated demand,” said Tavenner, who heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. She added, “We obviously had more bugs than we realized.”