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HHS secretary must follow through on promise to fix Obamacare website

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sounded contrite as she apologized profusely for the administration’s abysmal failure in the rollout of the website for the president’s health care law. Apology accepted. Now, produce results.

Sebelius, testifying under oath on Wednesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, shouldered much of the blame, but, when pressed, pointed a finger at a contractor. True, the so-called experts selling the administration what turned out to be a bill of goods should be called out, but at the end of the day the secretary and her boss deserve to wear this one. They got it wrong. Big time.

Sebelius said she told President Obama “we were ready to go” with the insurance website before it opened on Oct. 1. “Clearly I was wrong,” she said, uttering the understatement of the year. As if to underscore how wrong she was, the website was down as she testified.

The major glitches in the computerized health care signup system are well known. Had it not been for the GOP’s tea party-inspired misstep of shutting down the government in an effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, much more attention would have been given to the embarrassing debacle.

Millions of Americans who wanted to use the website found themselves either locked out entirely, or struggling to answer security questions and finding themselves unable to prove they really were who they claimed to be.

And yet here was Sebelius going out on a limb by testifying that the federal online insurance marketplace would be fully functional and able to accommodate millions of users by Nov. 30, two weeks before the deadline for buying coverage.

The secretary should have been more involved in the operational aspects of the website, to the point of micromanaging. Instead, she pointed to a government contractor, Terremark, a subsidiary of Verizon Communications, for failures that disrupted the website on Sunday and on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Perhaps someone should have told her all systems were not “go,” but it was just as important for someone on her team to take it for a test ride. Trust, but verify.

Sebelius is coming under fire from House Republicans for the website glitches, as well as possible security weaknesses and the cancellation of some policies, which she explained will be replaced by ones with improved benefits and more consumer protections – but at what price?

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has introduced a bill that would require the administration to give weekly reports showing the number of people who had obtained insurance through the federal exchange. That is, in the 36 states that did not set up their own insurance exchanges.

He should not have to fight for information that should be readily available to lawmakers and the public. But if that’s the only way to pry it loose, so be it.

Sebelius has promised to do better. She needs to follow through, or step aside so someone else can.