Sebelius rejects calls to delay parts of health law

The New York TimesNovember 6, 2013 

APTOPIX Health Overhaul Problem

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, before the Senate Finance Committee hearing on the difficulties plaguing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act,. The massive failure at healthcare.gov website is getting new criticism for lack of proper cybersecurity protections.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE — AP

— Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said Wednesday that the government needed to fix hundreds of problems with the website for the federal health insurance marketplace, but she rejected bipartisan calls to delay parts of the new health care law.

She made her comments at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee just hours after the Obama administration had disclosed that the chief information officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would retire. His office supervised the creation of the troubled website.

The official, Tony Trenkle, will step down Nov. 15 “to take a position in the private sector,” according to an email message circulated among agency employees. He has supervised the spending of $2 billion a year on information technology products and services, including the development of the website.

His retirement is part of a management shake-up announced by Michelle Snyder, the chief operating officer of the Medicare agency, who was herself deeply involved in major decisions about the insurance marketplace.

Even as Sebelius testified about progress in repairing the website, agency officials were reporting new problems Wednesday.

“The site is performing slowly,” said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Some users have difficulty logging in and receive error messages.”

Under the new health care law, most Americans will be required to have coverage next year.

The online marketplace, or exchange, has been plagued with problems since it opened Oct. 1.

Sebelius said officials had a list of “a couple of hundred functional fixes” that had to be made so the website, HealthCare.gov, would work smoothly for most users by Nov. 30, a deadline set by the administration.

With many people unable to obtain coverage through the website, lawmakers in both parties have suggested extending the open enrollment period or delaying the financial penalties for people who go without insurance. Sebelius refused to consider those proposals.

“Delaying the Affordable Care Act would not delay people’s cancer or diabetes or Parkinson’s disease,” she said. “It would not delay the need for mental health services or cholesterol screenings or prenatal care.”

“For millions of Americans, delay is not an option,” Sebelius said. “People’s lives depend on this.”

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