NEW: Democratic senator urges Obama to extend enrollment, delay "mandate" penalty
Sebelius: Obama didn't know of issues, despite companies' complaints, crash during test run
Delaying the website's launch was "not really an option," Sebelius says
She tells CNN an "A-Team" of experts coming in, 3 weeks after launch
President Barack Obama didn’t know of problems with the Affordable Care Act’s website – despite insurance companies’ complaints and the site’s crashing during a test run – until after its now well-documented abysmal launch, the nation’s health chief told CNN on Tuesday.
In an exclusive interview with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta asked when the President first learned about the considerable issues with the Obamacare website. Sebelius responded that it was in “the first couple of days” after the site went live October 1.
“But not before that?” Gupta followed up.
To which Sebelius replied, “No, sir.”
Sebelius admitted that there is concern in her department and the White House over the technical debacle surrounding the website rollout, saying “no one could be more frustrated than I am and the president.” The site was supposed to make it simple for people to search and sign-up for new health care policies starting on October 1, but instead it’s been clunky and, at times, inoperable.
“We’re not at all satisfied with the workings of the website,” Sebelius said. “We want it to be smooth and easy and let consumers compare plans.”
She noted how a team of high-tech experts from within the government and from Silicon Valley, and led by Jeff Zients – a former CEO and acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, who will oversee the process for the next few months – is coming to help address the issues. Their arrival was announced earlier Tuesday.
Why weren’t they brought in before the website launched October 1?
“We (had) hoped that they had their ‘A-Team’ on the table” from the start, Sebelius said of the contractors and agencies responsible for the project.
As to now, “We want new eyes and ears. We want to make sure that we get all the questions on the table, that we get all the answers and accelerator the fix as quickly as possible.”
The secretary attributed some of the problems to “extremely high” volume, claiming nearly 20 million people came to the Obamacare website in the first three weeks after its launched. Yet only a fraction of those have signed up for new health care policies; Sebelius said Tuesday that 500,000 accounts had been created, but that doesn’t mean all those people enrolled in a plan.