- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Marilyn Tavenner, President Obama’s point woman in implementing the new health care law, told Congress on Tuesday the new health care law is salvageable and that repairs to the federal Obamacare website will coincide with an expected rush of enrollees by early December, even as GOP lawmakers declare Obamacare a failure.

Ms. Tavenner has enjoyed bipartisan support as the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), but the disastrous rollout of online markets tied to President Obama’s signature law has left her agency facing heavy political fire — some of it friendly — on Capitol Hill.

“We knew all along we’d have bugs in the system,” Ms. Tavenner told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, in her second trip to Capitol Hill in a week to discuss the law’s shortcomings.

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But she said those glitches exceeded expectations and prevented many people from completing the enrollment process.

She said the federal website that channels most requests for coverage, HealthCare.gov, is a work in progress that will slowly get better by the day, both in capacity and overall performance.

“We acknowledge that we have a lot more to do, and we’re ready to do it,” she testified.

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But CMS officials acknowledged Tuesday “there was a piece of software code to fix” to address a problem that is attracting scrutiny, in which a North Carolina man reported that he was able to view a South Carolina man’s name and address while trying to use the system.

“To be clear, as soon as it was reported to us, we put a fix in place to prevent it from happening in the future,” CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille said on a conference call with reporters, adding she knows of no similar reports.

Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, said during Tuesday’s hearing he was troubled by the incident, and that the agency did little to help his constituent get his personal information removed from the system when the issues arose.

The hearing offered Senate Democrats the first opportunity to scrutinize problems that have plagued the debut of insurance markets tied to Obamacare.

Since Oct. 1, the federal HealthCare.gov and some state-run websites have struggled to enroll users, while millions of Americans say they’ve received cancellation notices from insurers who say their current plans do not meet the Affordable Care Act’s standards.

HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, said everyone is upset about the glitches, but the health care law may offer a bridge to those who need health coverage most, once the administration fixes the federal website that links Americans from 36 states to coverage.

Fellow Democrats said GOP lawmakers’ constituents would be faring better if their states had taken responsibility for running the exchanges, and decried the pre-Obamacare health care industry as a callous machine that searched for ways to dump sick customers.

“That old value system was no good for this country,” Mr. Harkin said.

But one by one, Republican senators said too many people are losing coverage they enjoyed, only to be told they should go shopping on a website that doesn’t work.

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