HHS Sec under fire on Capitol amid Healthcare.gov problems - WCIV-TV | ABC News 4 - Charleston News, Sports, Weather

HHS Sec under fire on Capitol amid Healthcare.gov problems

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WASHINGTON (AP/WCIV) - President Barack Obama claimed "full responsibility" Wednesday for fixing his administration's much-maligned health insurance website as a new concern surfaced: a government memo pointing to security worries, laid out just days before the launch.

On Capitol Hill, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized to frustrated people trying to sign up, declaring that she is accountable for the failures but also defending the historic health care overhaul. The website sign-up problems will be fixed by Nov. 30, she said, and the gaining of health insurance will make a positive difference in the lives of millions of Americans.

The website HealthCare.gov was still experiencing outages as Sebelius faced a new range of questions at the House Energy and Commerce Committee about a security memo from her department. It revealed that the troubled website was granted a temporary security certificate on Sept. 27, just four days before it went live on Oct. 1.

The memo, obtained by The Associated Press, said incomplete testing created uncertainties that posed a potentially high security risk for the website. It called for a six-month "mitigation" program, including ongoing monitoring and testing.

Security issues raise major new concerns on top of the long list of technical problems the administration is grappling with.

"You accepted a risk on behalf of every user ... that put their personal financial information at risk," Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., told Sebelius, citing the memo. "Amazon would never do this. ProFlowers would never do this. Kayak would never do this. This is completely an unacceptable level of security."

Sebelius countered that the system is secure, even though the site's certificate, known in government parlance as an "authority to operate," is of a temporary nature. A permanent certificate will be issued only when all security issues are addressed, she stressed.

Republicans opposed to Obama's health care law are calling for Sebelius to resign. She apologized to people having trouble signing up but told the committee that the technical issues that led to frozen screens and error messages are being cleared up on a daily basis.

Sebelius' forthright statement about her ultimate accountability for problems with the sign-up rollout came as Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., peppered her with questions about the "debacle."

"Hold me accountable for the debacle," Sebelius responded. "I'm responsible."

Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee, scoffed at Republican "oversight" of a law they have repeatedly tried to repeal.

"I would urge my colleagues to stop hyperventilating," said Waxman. "The problems with HealthCare.gov are unfortunate and we should investigate them, but they will be fixed. And then every American will have, finally have, access to affordable health insurance."

The website HealthCare.gov was intended to be the online gateway to coverage for millions of uninsured Americans, as well those who already purchase their policies individually. Many people in the latter group will have to get new insurance next year, because their policies do not meet the standards of the new law.

She parried questions about problems with the website as well as a wave of cancellation notices hitting individuals and small businesses who buy their own insurance. Those notices are coming because many existing individual policies are too skimpy to meet the law's requirements. The administration says consumers affected will be able to find better coverage.

It's something local health care brokers are advising people be proactive and research their options sooner rather than later.

"If you can get a policy issue on you now, that policy will most likely be less expensive than a somewhat comparable policy that will be offered come January first." said Chuck Peterson, a health care broker with Wynn Insurance in Mount Pleasant.

He says as of the first of the year companies will no longer be able to turn people away based on pre-existing conditions, which will cause the premiums rates to jump. Peterson says people searching for plans need to find out if they qualify for a government subsidy.

"If they can qualify for a subsidy to help them pay for an individual plan through the exchange that is a good thing, if not based on their income, then they will have to apply for a policy off the exchange, in order to have a plan that would be considered legal under ACA," said Peterson.

According to Peterson, there are six companies that offer plans in South Carolina. Four of the companies are on the exchange; two are not. Peterson says right now doing a cost comparison seems impossible because of the problems with the heathcare.gov website.

"You're either going to buy a policy off the exchange in order to get that subsidy and lower your insurance premium or if you don't qualify, you're going to look at the companies that are actually doing business off the exchange and offering the same types of policies without being able to receive that subsidy," said Peterson.

Peterson says another important decision to consider is which insurance company network your doctor and hospital are located. He says consumers can check which provider is in network by checking the insurance companies' websites.

Starting Jan. 1, most Americans will be required to carry health insurance or face fines. At the same time, insurance companies will no longer be able to turn away people in poor health. The law provides subsidized private insurance for middle-class people who don't get health care on the job. Low-income people can access an expanded version of Medicaid in states that agree to expand that safety net program.

Congressional Republicans have introduced competing versions of legislation to let insurance companies continue selling coverage that has been available, freeing them from a requirement to cancel policies that do not meet the standards established in the law.

One bill in the House, authored by Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, would cover the sale of policies providing individual coverage through 2014.

Republican officials said the House was likely to vote on the issue next month.

Meanwhile, Obama spent the day at the site where Massachusetts' health care system became law to promote his signature health insurance program, arguing that the state plan also faced initial setbacks and low enrollment but in time gained popularity and became a success.

"All the parade of horribles, the worst predictions about health care reform in Massachusetts never came true," he said. "They're the same arguments that you're hearing now."

The Massachusetts' law provided the model for the federal health insurance overhaul. Obama spoke in Boston's historic Faneuil Hall, where Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney was joined by the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy to sign the state's 2006 health care overhaul bill.

The president pointed to benefits already available under the 3-year-old health care law, including ending discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions and permission to keep young people on their parents' insurance plans until they turn 26.

But he conceded the troubled launch of the open enrollment period that began Oct. 1.

"I am not happy about it," he said.

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