The glitches in the government’s computer system that have been causing frustration for millions of Americans trying to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act are being worked out, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in Cincinnati Wednesday.
“I will be the first to tell you that the web site launch was rockier than we wanted it to be,’’ Sebelius, a Cincinnati native said at a forum on the Affordable Health Care Act – also known as Obamacare –at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College Wednesday.
Americans without health insurance could start signing up for health care plans offered under Obamacare on Oct. 1; and there has been much criticism of Sebelius’ department, which operates the system, for the long waits and computer system failures so far.
The complaints were so great that, earlier this week, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that President Obama has “full confidence” in his Health and Human Services Secretary.
Sebelius said repeatedly Monday that the bugs are being worked out of the system.
“Two weeks later, there are vast improvements, but we are still not satisfied,’’ said Sebelius, a former Kansas governor who is the daughter of the late Ohio governor John Gilligan.
After the forum, Sebelius told reporters that she wanted to assure those who have had trouble with the website, healthcare.gov, “to come back and visit the web site again.”
Sebelius said people can also call the government’s health insurance marketplace at 1-800-318-2596 “and talk to a human being who can walk you through the process.”
With a six month enrollment period, there is still plenty of time for uninsured Americans to go online and choose a health care plan, Sebelius said.
“No one has lost any opportunity,’’ Sebelius said. “The enrollment is open until March 31st.”
At the forum, which was moderated by Cincinnati State president O’dell Owens, Sebelius said there are 1.4 million Ohioans who are uninsured, including about 175,000 in southwest Ohio.
Many will be eligible for government subsidies for their health insurance, Sebelius said.
Having the Obamacare health care coverage exchange in place, Sebelius said, “is a great day for 1.4 million Ohioans who have never had the protection of Medicare or insurance provided by private employers."
Sebelius, a Democrat, also had high praise for Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, who has decided to accept Obamacare’s Medicaid assistance, which will give health care coverage to about 275,000 Ohioans without insurance.
Kasich has decided to by-pass the Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly, which opposed the Medicaid expansion, and is going directly to the Ohio Controlling Board, which appropriates money. The controlling board is expected to approve Medicaid expansion in Ohio on Monday.
“I’m pleased that the governor is moving forward,’’ said Sebelius. “It will mean hundreds of thousands of Ohioans who have no coverage now will be covered by Medicaid.”
Cincinnati health commissioner Noble A-W Maseru was on the panel at Cincinnati State with Sebelius. He said that about 14.7 percent of Cincinnatians have no health care insurance – about 43,000 people – and that many of them end up in the city’s five health clinics, at a cost of about $8 million a year.
“Our goal is to get as many of these people as possible enrolled by Dec. 15, so they can start getting benefits on Jan. 1,’’ Maseru said.
After Sebelius spoke to the media, a woman named Kathy Leugers from Montgomery approached reporters and told them that she is a part-time worker who buys her own health insurance for about $4,000 a year.
“I won’t be able to keep my present plan because it doesn’t meet all the mandates of Obamacare,’’ Lugers said. “Things like drug treatment or maternity coverage. I am 60 years old. To me, this isn’t fair.”