Top official apologizes for health care website problems

Top official apologizes for health care website problems
Published: .
Updated: .

An apology was offered Tuesday from a top federal official over the troubled Obamacare website.

Marilyn Tavenner heads up the Medicare and Medicaid services, the agency tasked with building and overseeing the health insurance exchange website,

She apologized during a congressional hearing for the site's performance, and acknowledged the frustrations users have had. Tavenner vowed the problems will be fully fixed by the end of November.

Tavenner insisted the site is functional now, and improving, though not as smoothly as expected.

The official ran into deep skepticism from members of the House Ways and Means Commitee, who wondered why Americans should trust that the site, or law itself, will ever work.

"To the millions of Americans who have attempted to use to shop and enroll in healthcare coverage, I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should. We know how desperately you need affordable coverage," she said. "I want to assure you that can and will be fixed. And we are working around the clock to deliver the shopping experience that you deserve. We are seeing improvements each week and we have said publicly by the end of November the experience on the site will be smooth for the vast majority of users."

"We know the consumer experience has been frustrating for many Americans. Some have had trouble creating accounts and logging into the site, while others have received confusing error messages or had to wait for slow response times. This initial experience has not lived up to our expectations or the expectations of the American people and it is not acceptable," she said.

However, she would not give a specific number of how many people have actually signed up through the website. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Michigan), pressed her on that question.

Her answer: "Folks are still in the process of enrolling, both in the state-based exchanges and in the federal exchange. And we will have those numbers available in mid-November."

Rep. Camp: Are you getting those numbers?

Tavenner: Am I getting those numbers? Not yet. I --

Rep. Camp: You have no numbers on who's enrolled? So you have no idea?

Tavenner: We will have those numbers available in mid-November.

Rep. Camp: So no one is forwarding even weekly updates?

Tavenner: I think you've seen some of the press -- and I think that was on the graph earlier -- about what states have listed. We will get those numbers in mid-November.

Rep. Camp: But...I understand you're not publicly releasing those numbers. But I'm asking, do you have any idea of, on a weekly basis, how many people enrolled? I mean -- I mean, how do you not know how many people have enrolled?

Tavenner: Chairman Camp, we will have those numbers available in mid-November.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) asked, "The White House, Secretary Sebelius, you and your staff made repeated claims to the American public and to Congress that everything would be ready on time, everything was a go. None of that proved to be true. Now we're told everything will be okay very soon. So why should the American people believe you now?"

"So we've added capacity to the system, and we've improved system performance. So that's the first thing. The second thing is we have found some -- what I will call functional -- or glitches, as we call them in the -- public term, in the actual application itself, which we're repairing. And that is the gradual improvements that you will see over the next four weeks, and that's why I'm confident about the end of November," said Tavenner.

Asked about individuals who are having their policies canceled by insurers, Tavenner said those policies don't cover people properly with all the benefits mandated by the new law.

Tavenner's appearance followed last week's testimony from outside contractors who said there hadn't been enough time to test the complex online enrollment system. It froze up on the day it was launched, October first.

The Republican who heads the House Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp of Michigan, is asking whether it's fair for the IRS to impose penalties on those who don't sign up for health care, if people "can't navigate" what he calls a "dysfunctional and overly complex system."