Obama's promise charged as untrue

| Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans broadened their attacks on the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday, saying President Obama misled Americans for years by claiming they could keep the health coverage they had once the new health care law kicked in.

In remarks to the American Medical Association in 2009, Obama said: “No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

But at the House Ways and Means Committee hearing about the troubled Healthcare.gov website, many House Republicans complained that Obama's promise wasn't true. They said their constituents would have to pay more for individual and small group coverage next year because of the health law changes.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have begun getting cancellation notices from their health insurance companies for 2014 because their policies don't meet the health care law's tough new standards.

Other Republicans cast the situation as another failed promise from Obama about the contentious health care law.

“Now we learn that it's only if the White House likes your insurance you can keep your insurance. And if the White House doesn't like your insurance, you can no longer keep your insurance,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.

White House press secretary Jay Carney tried to quell the growing controversy, saying that the 80 percent of Americans with job-based coverage or government coverage through Medicare, Medicaid or the Veterans Administration would not be affected by the changes.

Meawhile, the administration's lead official on the health insurance marketplace apologized at the hearing for its poor performance but said the setback “took us by surprise.”

In testimony before the committee, Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the inability of the Healthcare.gov website to establish individual user accounts and handle the initial volume of users shortly after open enrollment began on Oct. 1 “was not anticipated” and “did not show up in testing.”

“To the millions of Americans who've attempted to use Healthcare.gov to shop and enroll in health coverage, I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should,” Tavenner testified. “I want to assure you that Healthcare.gov can and will be fixed.”

The hearing offered the first opportunity for Congress to formally question an administration official about the botched website rollout.

Tavenner repeatedly refused to provide information about how many people have been able to sign up for coverage on the website, telling committee members those numbers would be released in mid-November.

As with most oversight hearings that deal with any aspect of the Affordable Care Act, the session often drifted into emotional political arguments about the merits of the contentious health law and the intent of Republicans to kill it.

“The flaw is not the website,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas. “The flaw is the law itself.”

“The problems don't stop at the technical failures of the website,” added Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas. “The real problem stems from the colossal failure to deliver what the law promised to the American people.”

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a veteran of the civil rights movement, likened the Republican attacks on the health law to those of Southern lawmakers in the 1950s who supported “nullification” and “massive resistance” efforts to oppose federal desegregation laws.

In a dais-slapping rant, Lewis accused the GOP of a “deliberate and systematic attempt” to keep people from getting health care.

“Some of us will not stand for it,” he said. “We will stand up and fight for what is right; for what is fair and what is just. Health care is a right, not a privilege.”

Tavenner confirmed that officials at the Department of Health and Human Services badly underestimated the volume of users who would try to access the marketplace website on Oct. 1. She said pre-launch stress and load testing simulated usage that was projected to be three times the volume of users on the Medicare.gov website.

But more than 2.8 million people visited the Healthcare.gov website on Oct. 1. That was three times the traffic to the site after it was redesigned in June and seven times more users than had ever been on the Medicare.gov website at any one time, Tavenner told reporters on Oct. 1, the opening day.

What resulted was a bottleneck of users who were unable to browse and compare health plans on the site because of malfunctioning software.

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