Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius took responsibility Wednesday for the botched health care law website at a much-anticipated House hearing on the troubled rollout of Obamacare.
Sebelius described attempts by the public to shop for health insurance online as "a miserably frustrating experience," apologized for the problems and promised to correct them by the end of November.
"Let me say directly to these Americans," Sebelius said, "you deserve better."
Among the changes Sebelius promised is removal of a warning on the website that says those signing up for insurance have no "reasonable expectation" of privacy, which she called a "boilerplate" provision.
"People have every right to expect privacy," Sebelius said.
But Sebelius defended the new health care law itself in contentious exchanges with lawmakers who read letters from constituents whose policies have been cancelled despite President Obama's repeated promise that no one would lose their current insurance because of the new law.
"Everyone in American remembers the president's words: If you like your plan, you can keep it, period," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich, told Sebelius.
Sebelius portrayed cancellation of insurance policies as routine for the industry, but said those dumped by their insurers can sign up for more comprehensive coverage that would eliminate lifetime caps and bar insurers from refusing coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.
"The individual market … anywhere in this country have never had consumer protections," Sebelius said. "People are on their own. This will finally provide the kind of protections we all enjoy in our health care plans. Individuals who buy insurance on their own have never had that kind of health security."
Republicans and Democrats were sharply divided on the panel, with most Democrats defending the law despite the glitches and cancellations.
Democrats blamed some of the problems implementing the healthcare law on Republican efforts to repeal and defund it.
Rep. Henry Waxman, the committee's top Democrat, said the policies many consumers have lost in recent weeks are "deficient plans … offering flimsy coverage that disappears when people actually need it."
"No one should want that," he said.
Sebelius said she is focused on repairing the broken website, which one lawmaker said still wasn't working as of Wednesday. New "management talent" has been hired to oversee the repairs, Sebelius said.
About $180 million has been spent so far on the troubled healtcare.gov website, Sebelius testified.
"We are working day and night and we will continue until it is fixed," Sebelius said. "Our extensive assessment has determined that healthcare.gov is fixable."