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Health care official: Sorry for glitches with website

By David Morgan and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON — The head of the U.S. agency responsible for the new government-run health care website apologized on Tuesday for problems people have had obtaining insurance, but quickly came under fire about reports that thousands are losing their current coverage plans.

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Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told a congressional hearing that the website faces “complex technical issues” four weeks after it opened and pointed a finger at contractors and traffic of 20 million unique visitors as culprits.

“We know that consumers are eager to purchase this coverage. And to the millions of Americans who have attempted to use to shop and enroll in healthcare coverage, I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should,” Tavenner said.

But the apology did little to protect Tavenner against criticism from Republicans and Democrats.

“The fact is that the administration really failed these Americans,” said Representative Allyson Schwartz, a Pennsylvania Democrat.

“The administration has failed to properly test the website ... failed to take action to recognize and fix these problems along the way,” Schwartz said. “That initial experience has really done some damage to Americans’ confidence in this website, in the marketplace and even potentially in the options that they would have available to get health coverage.”

Republicans, who saw Tavenner’s appearance as a new opportunity to discredit President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy, took her to task over reports that hundreds of thousands who now have health insurance could see their current policies end and their costs rise dramatically.

Private insurers have informed policy holders in the individual and small group markets that their plans will end this year due to Obamacare, which requires plans to meet higher benefit standards. Anecdotal evidence shows that some consumers are being asked to pay much higher premiums.