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Dr. Sanjay Gupta: 5 surprises from Sebelius interview

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent
updated 1:01 PM EDT, Wed October 23, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sebelius said they pressed on with rollout because they didn't want to delay access to health care
  • Fact that President Obama wasn't being kept informed on biggest domestic program was a surprise
  • "A-Team" being called in now amid rollout debacle instead of involved much earlier
  • Sebelius says individual mandate will not be delayed despite website issues

Washington (CNN) -- With the rollout of HealthCare.gov -- the portal for enrollment in the new Obamacare health care exchanges -- getting hammered by critics and users, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta sat down with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for an exclusive interview.

Here are Gupta's takeaways from the interview:

1. Full speed ahead

I was surprised to learn just how extensive the concerns were before the October 1 rollout. Congressional investigators claim that just weeks before the planned rollout, more than two-thirds of insurers had concerns about the system being viable by October 1. Just days before the launch, the website crashed while being tested with just a few hundred people logging in, according to the Washington Post.

Despite all that, the White House decided to move forward. When I pressed Sebelius on this point, she said, "We moved forward because millions of people have been waiting for health care insurance," and they didn't want to delay any longer.

Sebelius: We are not at all satisfied
Sebelius: 'I came here to do' this job
Sebelius: 'A-Team' working on website

Sebelius on the spot over Obamacare rollout

She made that point a few times: A few weeks won't make that much of a difference given that open enrollment lasts until the end of March, and that millions more people could have health insurance by that time.

2. Obama didn't know?

According to Sebelius, President Barack Obama was not aware of any significant problems until a "couple days" after the website had been launched.

The Affordable Care Act is touted as a signature achievement for the Obama administration, and it surprised me that the President was not being kept up to speed -- according to Sebelius -- on the concerns around the rollout.

Sebelius: Obamacare website rollout problems blindsided President

3. A-Team late to arrive

Sebelius said in order to get the website running smoothly, she has asked that contractors bring in their "best and brightest," their "A-Team." I was surprised that the A-Team hadn't been assembled earlier, given the magnitude of the ACA, and the challenge of setting up the website.

When I pressed the Secretary on this point, she just said that she wants new eyes and ears, and to put all hands on deck, working toward a solution as quickly as possible.

4. Open to delaying fines?

Sebelius: We need people to sign up
Sebelius: We are not at all satisfied
Sebelius: This will be fixed

Sebelius did not back down on the individual mandate, which requires people to have health insurance or pay a fine.

I asked how it was possible that people could face a fine, if they had tried to sign up and were unsuccessful. At that point, it seems she might have left the window open to a delay, saying only: "I don't think that that really is the question right now."

"The issue is will people be able to sign up for affordable health care in the six-month open enrollment period? And I think the answer is absolutely yes."

Whether or not this issue comes up again is unclear. For now, the Secretary said the individual mandate is here to stay.

Administration to kick off effort to encourage enrollment

5. Falling on her sword?

Finally, I asked her about the calls for her resignation. Over the past few days, her friend, Sen. Pat Roberts, as well as 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, have raised the possibility.

While not giving a decisive no, Sebelius again reinforced the mission of this task, saying it was the most important job she has ever had. She also reinforced that she served at the pleasure of the President.

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