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Sebelius in Phoenix: Health exchange site problems being corrected

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PHOENIX – U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday that problems with the federal health care insurance enrollment website are understandable given the volume of visitors and are being corrected.

“It is certainly not what we want it to be. It’s not the experience I had hoped for,” Sebelius said after touring a call center handling insurance questions and talking with representatives of community groups. “But I can tell you we won’t stop until that lane is wide open and everybody can enroll.”

The $400 million rollout of the exchange and site, HealthCare.gov, has been beset with problems since enrollment opened Oct. 1 in Arizona and 25 other states. Federal officials have said that high traffic overwhelmed the site, which serves states that decided against opening their own exchanges.

Critics have questioned the website’s design, limited testing before launch and requirement that visitors register with email accounts before browsing health plan information.

On Thursday, 32 Republican members of Congress, including David Schweikert and Trent Franks of Arizona, sent a letter calling for President Barack Obama to demand Sebelius’ resignation. It called the rollout a “fiasco” characterized by uncertainty, confusion and incompetence.

Sebelius said her department is working 24 hours a day to correct the problems and that everyone who enrolls by Dec. 15 will have coverage when benefits start Jan. 1. The six-month open-enrollment period ends March 31.

She said some of the fixes that have been put in place include an “anonymous shopper” function that allows individuals to explore coverage options without registering with an email account.

“It’s a long way from perfect, but we are only three weeks into the 26-week open-enrollment period,” Sebelius said. “And in football terminology, that’s early in the first quarter.”

As for those seeking her ouster, she said: “The people calling for my resignation are the people I don’t work for and who don’t want the law to work in the first place.”

In a phone interview, Schweikert said the website’s issues point to larger problems that will follow as other elements of the Affordable Care Act take effect.

“It’s not just an ill-designed website; it’s an ill-designed law,” he said.