Health Care Official: It’s Not Just a Website

Obama administration official says the health care reform law is already working

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Michael Reynolds / EPA

Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has told Congress that full enrollment figures for HealthCare.gov will be released this week

A top Obama administration official overseeing the bungled roll-out of the new health care law said Tuesday that the law is already working well and that it’s about more than the problem-plagued website causing embarrassment for the White House.

Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told lawmakers that the troubled health insurance exchange website Healthcare.gov is quickly being fixed.

“We know that the initial consumer experience on healthcare.gov has been frustrating for many Americans,” she said while testifying Tuesday mroning before the┬áSenate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “We are focused on identifying and solving those problems quickly.

Tavenner said the site can now process 17,000 registrations each hour, “with almost no errors.”

“Healthcare.gov can and will be fixed quickly, and we are working literally around the clock to make that happen,” she said.

But Tavenner and Democrats supportive of the politically divisive law, President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement, urged Americans to keep the high-profile technical problems with the website in perspective.

“It’s important to remember that the [Affordable Care Act] is more than just a website,” Tavenner said. “It has created a new market. By creating competition where there wasn’t competition before, insurers are now eager for business and are lowering premiums to give customers more choice.”

Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, who chairs the committee, made the same point before introducing Tavenner.

“Everyone should take a deep breath,” Harkin said. “This is, after all a website. It’s a machine that can be fixed. … The promise of the ACA is more than just a website.”

Ever since Healthcare.gov was launched on Oct. 1, the website meant to be a portal for millions of Americans to purchase newly regulated and subsidized health insurance has instead been a political and public relations disaster, with consumers facing frequent outages and difficulties even signing up to shop for possible insurance options. Officials all the way up to Obama himself have acknowledged the problem, and the administration has promised the site will be working properly by the end of November. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen┬áSebelius directly apologized for the website launch during testimony before a House committee last week, saying Americans “deserve better.”

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, the ranking Republican on the Senate committee, reiterated GOP opposition to the law before Tavenner spoke Tuesday.

“Obamacare is the wrong direction because it expands the health care delivery system that we already knew costs too much,” he said.