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Obama Administration Official Grilled On Health Care Website Woes

HHS Secretary To Testify Before House Ways & Means Committee Wednesday

CBS New York (con't)

Affordable Care Act Updates: CBSNewYork.com/ACA

Health News & Information: CBSNewYork.com/Health

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) – There were fireworks on Capitol Hill Tuesday during a congressional hearing on the glitches with the Affordable Care Act website, healthcare.gov.

As CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported, there are also serious questions for the White House over what they knew about people losing their health care coverage as a result of the law.

The head of the Medicare program offered an apology Tuesday for the website troubles that have kept Americans from signing up for the new health insurance exchanges.

“I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should,” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said at the start of the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Although millions of Americans have shown an interest in checking out the new options, it appears that few have been able to get through the online application process.

Tavenner told the House panel that the initial numbers are expected to be “small” but she wouldn’t reveal any precise numbers.

An internal memo obtained by The Associated Press shows that the administration expected nearly 500,000 people to gain coverage just in October, the program’s first month.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, drew his own conclusion. He told Tavenner that by his math, the administration appears headed for less than a fourth of its October sign-up estimate.

Rep. Camp also repeatedly hammered Tavenner for not saying how many people have enrolled as she deflected the question.

Camp: “You have no numbers on who’s enrolled, you have no idea?”
Tavenner: “We will have those numbers available mid-November.”

Camp: “How do you not know how many people have enrolled?”
Tavenner: “We’ll have those numbers available in mid-November”

In one heated outburst, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) accused Republicans of wanting Obamacare to fail.

“We’ve gone through 44 votes, 48 votes now, of you trying to dismantle this legislation. You call that cooperation? I don’t!” Pascrell said.

Republicans also seized on a statement repeatedly made by President Barack Obama before the online exchanges launched.

“If you like your doctor or health care plan, you can keep it,” the president has said.

CBS News has learned insurance providers are dropping more than two million people, including 800,000 in New Jersey, and sending them into the federal exchanges.

The administration said those canceled plans did not meet the minimum standards under the new law and Americans will benefit from moving to better coverage.

“The whitehouse.gov website says if you want to keep the health insurance that you’ve got, you can keep it. And now they’re being told they can’t. That’s a lie,” Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) said during the hearing.

On Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will go to Capitol Hill, and face perhaps even a tougher grilling, Brennan reported.

Sebelius has become the target for attacks over its botched rollout. Republicans want her to resign and even some Democrats – while not mentioning Sebelius – say someone should be fired.

For months, the HHS secretary projected confidence that the online health insurance markets would open on time Oct. 1 in all 50 states and that a website that’s the key to public enrollments would be ready. Instead, it’s been plagued by technical problems.

How much Sebelius knew about the website’s problems, and when, are key questions she’ll face Wednesday at a House hearing.

Sebelius has acknowledged that the website launch has been rocky. So far, she appears to have the president’s backing.

The president will defend the health care law, his signature domestic achievement, at an event in Boston.

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