US President Barack Obama has claimed “full responsibility” for repairing his administration’s health insurance Web site as a new concern emerged: a government memo pointing to security worries, written shortly before the site’s Oct. 1 launch.
US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized on Wednesday to frustrated people trying to sign up for health coverage, telling a congressional committee she is accountable for the failures. The Web site sign-up problems will be fixed by Nov. 30, she said.
Both Obama and Sebelius defended the historic health care overhaul, which seeks to provide millions of Americans with government-mandated health insurance. The US had been the largest developed nation without a national health care system.
Obama told an audience in Boston, “We are going to see this through.”
However, he underscored his administration’s unhappiness with the problems so far.
“There’s no excuse for it,” he said.
The Web site HealthCare.gov was still experiencing outages as Sebelius faced questions from the House Energy and Commerce Committee about a security memo from her department.
The memo said incomplete testing created uncertainties that posed a potentially high security risk for the Web site. It called for a six-month “mitigation” program, including ongoing monitoring and testing.
It revealed that the troubled Web site was granted a temporary security certificate on Sept. 27, just four days before it went live.
Republicans argue the troubled Web site’s glitches are proof the government is incapable of managing the complex health care program.
“You accepted a risk on behalf of every user ... that put their personal financial information at risk,” representative Mike Rogers told Sebelius, citing the memo. “Amazon would never do this... This is completely an unacceptable level of security.”
Sebelius countered that the system is secure.
Spokeswoman Joanne Peters said: “When consumers fill out their online ... applications, they can trust that the information they’re providing is protected by stringent security standards and that the technology underlying the application process has been tested and is secure.”
Republicans opposed to Obama’s health care law are calling for Sebelius to resign.
HealthCare.gov was intended to be the online gateway to coverage for millions of uninsured Americans, as well those who already purchase their policies individually. Many people in the latter group will have to get new insurance next year because their policies do not meet the standards of the new law.
Starting on Jan. 1, most Americans will be required to carry health insurance or face fines. At the same time, insurance companies will no longer be able to turn away people in poor health. The law provides subsidized private insurance for middle-class people who do not get health care on the job. Low-income people can access an expanded version of Medicaid in states that agree to expand that safety net program.
Lawmakers wanted to know how many people have enrolled in plans through the health insurance marketplaces. Sebelius stuck with the administration response, promising to release the data in the middle of this month.
Obama’s White House legacy depends heavily on whether his massive overhaul of the US health care system will succeed.
Sebelius testified as another controversy brewed over a wave of cancellation notices hitting small businesses and individuals who buy their own insurance. Republicans say that contradicts one of Obama’s earliest promises about the health law: You can keep your plan if you like it.