U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the Affordable Care Act in Washington
The woman at the center of the firestorm surrounding the tech-plagued launch of the Obamacare website says President Barack Obama was not informed of potential red flags until it went live.
In an interview with CNN's Sanjay Gupta on Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the president was told of problems with the site in the "first couple of days" after the Oct. 1 launch of HealthCare.gov, but not before.
"Nobody says the site is working the way we want it to," Sebelius said. "No one could be more frustrated than I am, and the president, that this isn't smooth."
Sebelius, though, defended going ahead with the launch of the Affordable Care Act portal despite concerns from health insurance companies that it wouldn't work and a failed test run in late September involving just a few hundred users.
"There are people in this country who have waited decades for affordable health coverage for themselves and their families," she said. "What's clear is we have a product. The product really works. We have created a market where there wasn't a market."
She added, "I was optimistic that things would go smoothly. I felt that the day had finally come I've done this work now for three and a half years, implementing this historic law."
The secretary blamed some on the site's problems on "extremely high" volume.
"We've had nearly 20 million people visit the website in the first three weeks," Sebelius said. "And that shows, I think, the pent-up interest that people have in affordable, available health coverage."
About 500,000 people have created accounts on the site, she said, though she declined to disclose how many of those enrolled in health care plans.
"What we can tell you is that thousands of people have signed up," Sebelius said. "We know that people are getting through every day. It is not where we need it to be. It isn't as smooth as we want it to be for the volume of people who want this product."
On Monday, Obama said “experts” are mounting a “tech surge” to fix the Obamacare website.
“We’ve got people working overtime, 24/7, to boost capacity and address the problems,” he said in a speech in the Rose Garden. “Experts from some of America's top private-sector tech companies — who've, by the way, have seen things like this happen before — they want it to work.
“They're reaching out. They're offering to send help. We've had some of the best IT talent in the entire country join the team,” the president said. “And we're well into a tech surge to fix the problem. And we are confident that we will get all the problems fixed.
“There's no sugarcoating it," Obama added. "The website has been too slow; people have been getting stuck during the application process. And I think it's fair to say that nobody's more frustrated by that than I am.”