"You deserve better. ... I apologize. ... I'm accountable to you."
That's what Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Americans Wednesday morning at the start of a Congressional hearing into problems with the Obama administration's HealthCare.gov website and Republicans' concerns about the Affordable Care Act.
But, while conceding that "the initial consumer experience at HealthCare.gov has not been adequate," Sebelius also made the case that "the Affordable Care Act delivered on its product: quality, affordable health insurance."
Sebelius made the comments while summarizing the prepared statement she submitted to the House Energy & Commerce Committee at the start of a much-anticipated hearing at which she faced tough questions from Republicans.
One of the more dramatic moments of the morning was an exchange between Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Sebelius.
Blackburn pushed Sebelius to name "who's responsible" for the crashing and other problems with the HealthCare.gov website. After some back-and-forth, Sebelius answered that Michelle Snyder, chief operating officer at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, runs a key unit.
So, "Michelle Snyder is the one responsible for this debacle?" Blackburn asked.
After a moment, Sebelius responded with some edge to her voice, saying:
"Excuse me, congresswoman, Michelle Snyder is not responsible for the debacle. Hold me accountable for the debacle. I'm responsible."
Asked if she is confident the website will be running smoothly by Nov. 30, Sebelius said she is. "But I know it isn't fair to ask the American public to take our word for it," she acknowledged.
As NPR's Julie Rovner writes on the Shots blog, Sebelius followed Tuesday's testimony from Marilyn Tavenner — administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Tavenner first apologized for the botched rollout of the HealthCare.gov website, and then spent several hours being peppered with questions from Ways and Means Committee Republicans. Many of the queries were about cancellation notices being received by people who buy their own insurance.
Julie writes that:
Many members of the committee, including [Rep. Peter] Roskam, R-Ill., read letters from constituents who say they'll have to pay more for new coverage. "Can you understand the level of frustration and concern about what many Americans perceive to be a false claim from the administration?" he asked.
Tavenner said it's not that simple, and it's not all bad. Many people who say they like their current plans don't realize how little they cover.
"Sometimes they were in plans that they thought were fine until they actually needed hospitalization," she said. "Then they found out it didn't cover hospitalization, or it didn't cover cancer."
There have been calls from some Republicans for Sebelius to step down or be fired because of the problems with HealthCare.gov.
This story has been updated.