Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday said that President Obama was not aware of glitches in the Obamacare insurance exchange website ahead of its launch and defended the administration's decision to go ahead with the rollout on schedule.
In an interview with CNN, Sebelius was asked when Obama first learned about the tech issues plaguing the Healthcare.gov website.
“It became clear fairly early on, the first couple of days,” Sebelius told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta. Asked if Obama knew about the concerns at HHS and earlier red flags before the Oct. 1 launch date, Sebelius said “no” and that Obama was only told that the team was testing the website.
“I think that we talked about having testing going forward and if we had an ideal situation and could build a product in a five year period of time, I think we would have taken five years. But we didn’t have five years. And certainly Americans who rely on health coverage didn’t have five years to wait,” she said.
Sebelius said that despite problems discovered in the days before the website’s launch, delaying the insurance exchanges was never a viable option for the administration.
“Waiting is not really an option,” she said.
Sebelius also said she was “optimistic that things would go smoothly” the morning the website went live. “The day had finally come, I had done this work now for three and a half years, implementing this historic law,” she said.
The troubled-rollout of the Obamacare website has threatened to undermine support for the president’s signature legislative achievement. The White House this week launched an effort to reassure the public that they were working quickly to fix the site, which is designed to register consumers in new insurance exchanges.
But critics have called for Sebelius to be fired and said that the botched rollout raises questions about the entire health care law.
The secretary is slated to testify before Congress next week.
Sebelius said that despite the glitches to the exchange website, the overall health care law was working.
“There are people in this country who have waited decades for affordable health coverage. ... We have a product, the product really works. We have created a market where there wasn’t a market; people have competitive plans at affordable prices,” she said.
But “we are not at all satisfied with the workings of the website,” she conceded.
Sebelius again blamed the website’s issues on the “enormous volume” of visitors.
“Which is good news — We’ve had 20 million people visit the website in the first three weeks and that shows I think the pent up interest that people have in affordable, available health coverage,” said the secretary.
Asked if she had used the website herself, Sebelius responded: “I have created an account on the site, I have not tried signing up myself because I have insurance."
“There are certainly some challenges. It could be smoother, easier to access and that’s what we are working on. No one is saying the site is working the way we want it to,” she said.