As Obamacare issues fester, White House and Sebelius play defense

President Obama and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius arrive to speak about the Affordable Care Act in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., October 1, 2013. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Thirty days after the botched launch of HealthCare.gov, the nation on Wednesday will hear from both President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the ongoing problems associated with the Affordable Care Act. Both leaders are expected to say they just need more time to make the law work smoothly.

The president on Wednesday will address the issue of health care from Faneuil Hall in Boston, where in 2006 then-Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., signed the Massachusetts health law that served as a model for the Affordable Care Act.

Sebelius, meanwhile, will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Their appearances come one day after Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee and gave a formal apology to the American public for the dysfunctional website, which serves as a gateway to the new Obamacare insurance marketplace for consumers in 36 states. Neither Mr. Obama nor Sebelius are expected to be as conciliatory.

The president is speaking from Boston to make certain points. Mr. Obama plans to point out that just like the Affordable Care Act, the Massachusetts law took some time gaining momentum. In the first month of the 2007 open enrollment period in Massachusetts, only 123 people signed up -- more than 20 percent of enrollees waited until the last month.

"Imagine the stories that were probably generated at the time about how the whole thing was going to fail when, in fact, the opposite turned out to be true," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.

Additionally, the president plans to note that the Massachusetts law had bipartisan support, while efforts to improve the Affordable Care Act are undermined by Republican opposition. Lastly, Mr. Obama will make the case that consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act, such as the rule barring insurers from denying insurance to people with pre-existing conditions, are worth fighting for.

The problems plaguing HealthCare.gov have significantly hampered one of the main components of Mr. Obama's signature law. Health policy experts say that if the website isn't fixed by mid-November, it could mean that relatively few people will enroll, leaving the new private insurance marketplace unstable.

The administration has deployed a team of experts, led by former corporate executive Jeff Zients, to conduct a "tech surge" to fix the site. Zients said last week the site should be working sufficiently by the end of November.

In her testimony Wednesday, Sebelius will assure the Energy and Commerce Committee that the website is improving quickly.

"We continue to add more capacity in order to meet demand and execute software fixes to address the sign up and log in issues, stabilizing those parts of the service and allowing us to remove the virtual 'waiting room,'" Sebelius says in her prepared opening statement. "Today, more individuals are successfully creating accounts, logging in, and moving on to apply for coverage and shop for plans. We are pleased with these quick improvements, but we know there is still significant, additional work to be done."

However, while Tavenner on Tuesday apologized for the flawed site, Sebelius is blaming the private contractors who built HealthCare.gov for its problems.

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