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Sebelius: Obamacare website improvements 'on track'

By Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 5:26 PM EST, Tue November 26, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: CNN count shows more than 200,000 enrolled in Obamacare so far
  • Health Secretary Sebelius urges state and local officials to push Obamacare enrollment
  • Sebelius projects a "significantly different user experience" on the website by December 1
  • Botched Obamacare website rollout has become a political flashpoint in Washington

Washington (CNN) -- With just days to go until a self-imposed deadline, fixes to the problem-plagued Obamacare website are "definitely on track," Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday.

In a conference call with state and local officials, Sebelius added that "this isn't a magic 'turn on the on switch'" to fix HealthCare.gov, but a continual process in which "the experience is vastly improved each and every day."

"We are definitely on track to have a significantly different user experience by the end of this month -- that was our commitment -- than people experienced on October 1" when the enrollment website launched, she said.

"We've added hardware, we've added software; we're continuing to work on the parts of the website that were too confusing to people," Sebelius continued, urging the officials "to not hesitate to recommend that people go to HealthCare.gov and get signed up because that experience is currently working much better and it will continue to work much better."

On Monday, a White House spokesman said the administration would meet President Barack Obama's goal of having the website working for the "vast majority" of users by November 30.

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Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that the tech team working on HealthCare.gov has increased the site's capacity, boosting it to a level of 50,000 "concurrent" users.

Recurring breakdowns, error messages and delays botched the federal web portal rollout on October 1, opening the President's signature health care reform effort to new and fierce Republican criticism while questions about the administration's ability to manage the sweeping health insurance overhaul.

The GOP opposition targets the entire 2010 Affordable Care Act, not just the website woes, as the ultimate example of big government run amok. In particular, they accuse Obama and Democrats of having lied when they pledged that people could keep health coverage they liked.

Cancellation notices to some private policy holders -- a tiny percentage compared to the overall number of Americans who get their coverage through their employers or government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid -- fueled the Republican charges.

In response, Obama said insurers can choose to continue offering canceled policies, even if they failed to meet new requirements under the health care reforms.

At the same time, he defended the overall goal of Obamacare to make make affordable health coverage available to millions of previously uninsured or under-insured Americans.

On Tuesday, Obama repeated his criticism of Republicans who seek to dismantle the reforms instead of working with the White House and Democrats to fix any problems and build on them.

"We'd be a lot further along if we could just get folks to act with some sense, if we didn't have one wing of one party that was a little less obsessed with repealing health care for 40 million people, more concerned with making sure the law works," he said in remarks during a visit to the Dreamworks Studio in California.

Enrollment figures for the first month after the opening of the new health insurance exchanges under Obamacare were much lower than initially expected. Now some states have reported stronger numbers, and Sebelius said Tuesday that more people were signing up daily.

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She declined to provide any specifics, even when asked by a local official on the call for a demographic breakdown on who was signing up. Such details weren't yet available, Sebelius said.

According to a CNN count based on available figures, just over 200,000 people have signed up for new private health insurance under Obamacare -- either through the national system or networks set up in 14 states and the District of Columbia.

The enrollment period runs until March 31, and officials have said the target for the first year was seven million people.

In addition, more than 370,000 have signed up for Medicaid under state programs expanded through the health care reforms, the CNN count shows.

Sebelius told the conference call with state and local officials that Improvements to HealthCare.gov would continue beyond December 1.

She urgent the officials to continue their efforts to spread information in their communities to help people enroll for Affordable Care Act coverage, saying: "You tap into local events, you know the communities better than anyone, you know the targets for high numbers of uninsured and under-insured folks who live in your area, and I think that partnership is just hugely important."

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CNN's Jim Acosta and Z. Byron Wolf contributed to this report.

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