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Health Secretary Apologizes as Health Care Law Draws More Heat


U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has apologized to the American people for the problems preventing many from signing up for health insurance coverage, as President Barack Obama said Wednesday the health care law is still the "strongest protector" for health care consumers. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee accused the administration of deceiving Americans, criticizing the rollout on everything from website flaws to increased premiums.

Kathleen Sebelius, the public face of the government's online health care exchange woes, told Americans she is sorry for the troubled launch of the so-called Obamacare website when testifying before a congressional panel Wednesday.

"You deserve better. I apologize. I’m accountable to you for fixing these problems," said Sebelius.

Cases abound of Americans struggling with the new system, such as John Tankersley, who has spent three weeks trying to sign up for a health care plan on the website, and Robert Schlora, who's also been trying to get a health care plan since October 1.

"I really have no idea whether or not I'll be offered a better plan, whether or not the government will help me subsidize it," said Schlora.

With recent elements of his health care program under attack, President Obama has defended its promise.

"Today that promise means that every plan in the marketplace covers a core set of minimum benefits like maternity care and preventive care and mental health care and prescription drug benefits and hospitalization, and they can't use allergies or pregnancy or a sports injury or the fact that you're a woman to charge you more," said Obama.

The president promised millions of uninsured Americans that they could purchase comprehensive health insurance plans at affordable rates.

"Nearly half of all single, uninsured 18-34 year-olds may be able to buy insurance for 50 bucks a month or less, less than your cell phone bill, less than your cable bill," said Obama.

However, back on Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers told Sebelius their constituents are not happy with the changes, which have led to health insurance companies raising costs on some plans and cancelling others.

"The result is, this person from Cove, Oregon said 'I was paying $600 per month for a $3,000 deductible. Now it costs me $800 a month for a $5,000 deductible,'" said Greg Walden, a Republican representing Oregon’s 2nd district.

"Many of my constituents are reaching out to me, those with individual policies, and they are saying to me that 'my rates are going up 400 percent. My rates are going up 127 percent,'" related Renee Ellmers, a Republican representative for North Carolina.

The administration is promising frustrated Americans that the website’s problems will be fixed by late November. Officials say the most important thing is that millions of uninsured Americans will now have access to affordable health care.
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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Korea, Japan and Egypt.

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