Sen. Tom Harkin said Tuesday that lawmakers should take a deep breath and realize the health care law may offer a lifeline to those who need it most, even if the HealthCare.gov website that links many Americans to coverage is in dire straits.
"This is, after all, a website, a machine that will be fixed," said Mr. Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
The committee is set to hear from Marilyn Tavenner, administration of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), about the troubled rollout of online portals tied to the Affordable Care Act.
It is the Democrat-controlled Senate's first chance to confront the law's flawed debut, after House Republicans pressed top health officials for answers last week.
Mr. Harkin, a top author of the law, started the hearing by highlighting an Oregon man with late-stage cancer who was profiled in a New York Times op-ed, saying the law came too late for the man.
Ranking Member Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, fought back with his own stories of constituents who are losing their coverage because it does not meet standards dictated by the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Obama is facing heat because he repeatedly promised that people who liked their health plans could keep them, a claim that is proving untrue for millions of Americans.
The president said these folks should shop around for better coverage at affordable prices on the state and federal health exchange, but web glitches are preventing them from browsing and enrolling.
Mr. Alexander said that's a problem, because Americans have less than two months to gain a new plan.
"That's an unwelcome Christmas present," Mr. Alexander said.
Mr. Harkin admitted the rollout "has been bumpy, to put it mildly."
But he also chastised Republican opponents of the law for spending three years trying to dismantle President Obama's reforms, only to press administration officials on its failings.
"Quite frankly, I feel they've surrendered their right to express indignation that it's not working flawlessly," he said.
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