Sebelius Says Americans Should ‘Come Back’ To HealthCare.gov

Top health care official said performance of website now 'night and day compared to where we were back in October'

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MICHAEL REYNOLDS / EPA

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appears before the House House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, Dec. 11, 2013.

The Obama administration’s top health care official had a message Wednesday for Americans who were frustrated when they tried to sign up for insurance through new online exchanges, only to find the website maddeningly unworkable: “Come back.”

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said the performance of HealthCare.gov, the federal site running exchanges that are key to President Barack Obama’s signature health reform law, is now “night and day compared to where we were back in October.”

“To those who have been frustrated with the experience so far, we are asking you to come back,”┬áSebelius said at a House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee meeting.

Her latest appearance before lawmakers comes as the administration is looking to turn the page on the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Earlier on Wednesday, officials released data showing a significant uptick in the pace of enrollment through the online exchanges, and Sebelius formally asked an inspector general to probe what went wrong with a website that turned into a political embarrassment for President Barack Obama.

Republicans said the administration is painting an overly-rosy picture of the improvements of HealthCare.gov, and of the law in general.

“Every major promise the administration made about the ACA… has proven to be wrong,” Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Joe Pitts said.

“Far too many Americans who are happy and satisfied with their health care coverage… have had their world turned upside down,” Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton said.

Pitts pressed Sebelius to specify if the hundreds of thousands of Americans the administration says have signed up for health insurance on the exchanges have merely selected plans or actually have coverage. Sebelius said their coverage will become active when they pay their first premiums later this month.

“So you can’t guarantee the actual number of constituents who actually have coverage?” Pitts asked.

“Not until they pay,” Sebelius answered, prompting Pitts to ask her to return and testify again in a few weeks.

“I want you to know we are going to want real numbers,” Pitts said.

Democrats, who have been heartened by improvements with the website, gave Sebelius some cover from the Republican-controlled subcommittee.

“I don’t know where their reality is, sometimes I question if they’re living on earth,” New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone said. “This whole idea we hear from Republicans that the world has turned upside down, it’s just the opposite.”