WASHINGTON -- Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says President Obama did not know about the problems with the health insurance law website before its launch, and she is dodging questions about whether she will resign over the troubled rollout of the federal health insurance marketplace.
In an interview with CNN, Sebelius remained vague about how much administration officials knew about the site’s readiness before it went live on Oct. 1. HHS and White House officials “talked about testing going forward,” she said. And the president became aware of the problems “fairly early on, the first couple of days,” but not before launch, she said.
“No, sir,” not before the launch, she told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta on Tuesday, in response to a question.
The former Kansas governor whose department was responsible for building the website tried to tout progress on repairs to the federal website intended to link uninsured Americans to affordable private insurance plans. Since the Oct. 1 launch of www.healthcare.gov, users have had trouble signing on to the site, getting accurate estimates and completing enrollment.
Sebelius said 1.1 million calls have come into a call center that can assist with enrollment. The 19 million visitors to the website are evidence of the overwhelming demand for affordable coverage, Sebelius said. Roughly 500,000 of those visitors have been able to create accounts on the site, she said. Her department has not released the number of people successfully enrolled in insurance plans through the website.
Sebelius would not say whether she had discussed with Obama whether she might step down.
“I think my job is to get this fully implemented and to get the website working right,” Sebelius told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta. “And that's really what I'm focused on. I work at the pleasure of the president. He is singularly focused on making sure we deliver on this promise. That's what I'm committed to doing.”
Administration critics are calling for Sebelius’ resignation and have begun investigating why and how the website, the centerpiece of the Obama healthcare law, was not ready for its launch. Contractors who worked on the project are due to testify before a House committee on Thursday. Sebelius is slated to appear next week.
The pressure to fix the site and explain the cause of the problems isn’t just coming from the administration’s adversaries. David Axelrod, Obama’s longtime campaign guru and a former White House advisor told MSNBC on Tuesday night that the White House should be “forthcoming” with the progress being made.
“This has been shrouded in a little bit of mystery. I don’t quite understand why that is; I think it’s better to be straightforward about it,” Axelrod, an MSNBC contributor, said on “The Last Word.”
“[If] I were in the White House, I would be communicating regularly on those fixes, but I also would be very, very tough on the people who are responsible to get those fixes done quickly,” Axelrod said. “I’d be, as I’m sure they are, kicking a bunch of folks in the butt every day to make sure that what needs to be done is being done.”
Former White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also has critiqued the White House handling of the fallout and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, (D-N.H.) asked the president to shift the March 31 deadline for consumers to enroll in a health insurance plan without paying a penalty.
On Tuesday, Sebelius did not directly say whether the administration was considering such a move.
“Well, I don’t think that that really is the question right now. The issue is will people be able to sign up for affordable health care in the six months’ open enrollment period? And I think the answer is absolutely yes,” she said.
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