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Point person on Obamacare website assures senators on code, security

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2013

President Obama's point person in implementing the new health care law assured senators Tuesday that the federal Obamacare website is salvageable and secure, even as her agency acknowledged it had to fix software code after a man in North Carolina reported he stumbled upon another man's personal information.

Marilyn Tavenner has enjoyed bipartisan support as the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but the disastrous rollout of online markets tied to Mr. Obama's signature law has left the administration facing 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.

Since Oct. 1, HealthCare.gov, which serves 36 states, and several state-run websites have struggled to enroll users, while millions of Americans say they have received cancellation notices from insurers because their current plans do not meet the Affordable Care Act's standards.

Ms. Tavenner said web-based problems exceeded expectations and prevented many people from completing the enrollment process on HealthCare.gov.

"We acknowledge that we have a lot more to do, and we're ready to do it," she told lawmakers.

She also said long-awaited figures on enrollment will be released next week, but an agency spokeswoman declined to pinpoint an exact date beyond the "mid-November" period the Obama administration had promised.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, Michigan Republican, said Tuesday he issued a subpoena for the enrollment data because he is sick of waiting.

"We are past the point of rallies, rollouts and revisionism," he said. "Congress and the American people need the facts."

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is scheduled to appear before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, reprising the two-day tour she and Ms. Tavenner performed on the House side of the Capitol last week.

The hearings offer Senate Democrats a chance to air their concerns about the implementation of a law they've cheered on since its passage in 2010.

On Tuesday, Democrats on the Senate health committee wavered between disappointment with the rollout and condemnation of the pre-Obamacare health system. Back then, they said, insurers looking to cut costs kicked consumers off their plans for pre-existing conditions as trivial as acne.

"That old value system was no good for this country," said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and health committee chairman.

Fellow Democrats said GOP lawmakers' constituents would be faring better if their states had taken responsibility for running the exchanges.

But their optimism was counterbalanced by concerns that Americans' will not take advantage of the law's benefits once the website is fixed.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, said she wants the law to work but needs to see more clarity from the Obama administration.

"I think it's very confusing about where you go," she told Ms. Tavenner, referring to Marylanders seeking benefits. "We hear about the navigators and this and that, but I can tell you, people really don't know."

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services officials had to tamp down security concerns Tuesday, after a father in North Carolina said he logged onto the website this week and was able to view a notice containing a South Carolina man's name, address and eligibility for subsidies.

"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, noting it was the only reported incident of its kind.

Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, said during Tuesday's hearing he was troubled by the episode, and that the agency did little to help his constituent get his personal information removed from the site.

Supporters and critics of the law are making their cases through cherry-picked anecdotes, but GOP lawmakers say the number of problems cannot be ignored.

"It's not what the president promised, and it's not the kind of health reform Americans asked for," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Tuesday on the Senate floor. "So we should keep our focus where it belongs — on the real people getting hurt by this law."

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