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Sebelius calls timing on ‘Obamacare’ website rollout ‘flat out wrong’

Outgoing Health and Human Services chief Kathleen Sebelius tells NBC she wasn’t forced out, says launch date was ‘wrong’

The Obama administration’s timeline for readying the new health care law’s online sign-up system “was just flat out wrong,” outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in an interview that aired Sunday.

In her first interview since the White House announced her resignation as the president’s top health care adviser, Sebelius told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that while Americans now have “competitive choices and real information for the first time ever in this insurance market,” the rocky rollout for the online sign-up system left Americans frustrated.

“Clearly, the estimate that it was ready to go Oct. 1 was just flat out wrong,” Sebelius said. was envisioned as the principal place for people to buy insurance under President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, also widely called “Obamacare.” The site’s first few weeks, fraught with technical errors, were an embarrassment for the administration and its allies.

“Well, I think there’s no question — and I’ve said this many times — that the launch of the website was terribly flawed and terribly difficult,” Sebelius said.

Obama set a Dec. 1 deadline to have the website repaired, a move that left Sebelius nervous, she said.

“Having failed once at the front of October, the first of December became a critical juncture,” she said. “That was a pretty scary date.”

Sebelius’ resignation comes just a week after the sign-up period for 2014 insurance coverage ended, enrolling 7.1 million people and exceeding initial expectations. Enrollment has since increased to 7.5 million, since people were given extra time to complete applications.

Contrary to speculation that the White House may have forced her resignation, she said she made the decision to leave and told Obama last month that staying on “wasn’t an option.”

“The president and I began to talk after the first of the year, and I went back to him in early March,” Sebelius said. “I made it pretty clear that it really wasn’t an option to stay on.”

As the public face for the law’s glitch-plagued implementation, Sebelius said the March 31 end of open enrollment was the logical time to leave the job. She added that Obama did not try to persuade her to stay through the end of his term.

On Friday, Obama nominated his budget director, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, to succeed Sebelius — a move that analysts say would tighten White House control of the “Obamacare” issue as the political calendar heads into the thick of the campaign season.

When Sebelius and Obama spoke last month, she said enrollment was meeting its targets and the federal website was working after being paralyzed by technical trouble during the weeks that followed its debut last year.

Burwell must be confirmed by the Senate. Republicans, who hope to make the November election a referendum on “Obamacare,” are expected to use her confirmation hearings to showcase what they see as the law’s failings.

But Sebelius’ resignation comes at a high point for the health care act. She announced last week that 7.5 million people have signed up for private health coverage under the law, far surpassing the most optimistic expectations.

Wire services

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