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Testimony

Statement by
Kathleen Sebelius
Secretary
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

on
Oral Testimony on Affordable Care Act Implementation 

before
Committee on Energy and Commerce
United States House of Representatives


Wednesday October 30, 2013

Chairman Upton, Ranking Member Waxman, Members of the Committee:

I left my position as Governor of Kansas, 4½ years ago, for the opportunity to continue work I have been doing for most of my over 35 years of public service – to expand the opportunities for all Americans, regardless of geography or gender or income, to have affordable health coverage. 

During my years as a State Legislator, as an elected Insurance Commissioner, as head of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and as a two-term Governor, and now as HHS Secretary, I have worked on that effort that I care deeply about.

There are still millions of Americans who are uninsured as well as underinsured – people who have some coverage at some price for some illness, but have no real protection from financial ruin and no real confidence that they will be able to take care of themselves and their families if they have an accident or an illness. And for them, a new day has finally come.

In these early weeks, access to HealthCare.gov has been a miserably frustrating experience for way too many Americans, including many who have waited years – in some cases their entire lives – for the security of health insurance.

I am as frustrated and angry as anyone, with the flawed launch of HealthCare.gov.

So let me say directly to these Americans: You deserve better.  I apologize.  I am accountable to you for fixing these problems.  And I am committed to earning your confidence back by fixing the site.

We are working day and night, and will continue until it’s fixed.  We’ve recently added new management talent, additional technical expertise and a new general contractor to identify, prioritize, and manage fixes across the system in two broad categories: Performance, which deals with speed and reliability and function, which deals with bugs and problems in the system.

Our extensive assessment has determined that HealthCare.gov is fixable. And I want to just outline a couple of the improvements we’ve made to date.

  1. We now have more users successfully creating accounts.  We can process up to 17,000 account registrations per hour, or nearly 5 per second.
  2. Instead of some users seeing a blank screen at the end of the application process, they can now see whether they are eligible for financial assistance, and make more informed decisions.
  3. Because we’ve improved performance, customers can now shop for plans quickly – filtering plans takes seconds, not minutes.
  4. Users are getting fewer error messages and timeout messages as they move through the application process.
  5. And the system has been strengthened, with double the number of servers, software that is better optimized, and a high-capacity physical database, which replaces a virtual system.

The Chairman referred to outages this weekend and again yesterday. And I would suggest to the committee that if you read the statement of Verizon who hosts the cloud service, it is the Verizon server that failed, not HealthCare.gov, and it affected not only HHS but other customers.

We still have a lot of work to do. 

We have a plan in place to address key outstanding issues.  It includes fixing bugs in the software that prevented it from working the way it is supposed to, and refreshing the user experience so folks can navigate the site without encountering error messages, timeouts, and slow response times. 

By the end of November, we are committed that the vast majority of users will be able to review their options, shop for plans, and enroll in coverage without the problems way too many have been experiencing.

Consumers are using the site every day– and continue to do so – and problems are being solved.  But we don’t yet have a fully functioning system that consumers need and deserve.

We are still at the beginning of a six-month open enrollment, which extends through the end of March, and there is plenty of time to sign up.  And to just put it into perspective: The average open enrollment for an insurance plan is two to four weeks. The new Marketplace has a 26-week open enrollment, and those who enroll by December 15th, will be able to access their benefits on day 1.

Even with the unacceptable problems with HealthCare.gov, which we are committed to fixing, the Affordable Care Act, by any fair measure, is working for millions of Americans, who are benefitting from new health security – young adults; Americans living with pre-existing health conditions; seniors on Medicare. 

The 85% of Americans who already have health coverage are protected with new rights and benefits. The 15% of our neighbors and friends who are uninsured have affordable new options in a competitive market.

And cost growth for health care is lower than it’s been in years.

Millions of Americans are clearly eager to learn about their options, and to finally achieve health security made possible by the Affordable Care Act.

And my commitment is to deliver on that promise.

Last revised: October 30, 2013