She rejected a suggestion floated by the committee's leaders—Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)—that HHS take the site down until it is fixed.
The administration's team of internal and external experts have analyzed the system and determined that “HealthCare.gov is fixable and not fatally flawed,” she said.
She also said HHS and the CMS are committed to fixing the federal website's many problems by late November so that HealthCare.gov is operating smoothly for the vast majority of users.
“I'm the first to admit that the rollout has been excruciatingly awful for too many people,” said Sebelius, the former insurance commissioner for Kansas who received a similar grilling from House lawmakers a week ago. She added that a team of internal experts at the CMS and contractors are following a “very rigorous” schedule of improvements to fix performance and functionality of the faulty system that was meant to be the easiest point of entry for Americans in 36 states to buy health insurance.
Meanwhile, the health insurance exchange application is not available to consumers between 1 and 5 a.m. daily while improvements are being made, which is noted on HealthCare.gov.
Baucus, considered to be the chief architect of the 2010 healthcare law, told Sebelius that it's clear to him that she's working very hard to fix the system and urged her to “keep at it.”
Teh Montana Democrat, who famously told Sebelius during an April hearing that he worried the launch of the exchanges would be a “train wreck,” also made his expectations clear about the administration's promise that HealthCare.gov will run smoothly for most users by the end of this month.
“There's no room for error,” Baucus said. “You must meet—and I prefer you beat—that deadline.”
Meanwhile, Sebelius said that HHS will release enrollment numbers for coverage next week and that experts are working on the 834 issue with insurers. “We want to be sure we give you valid, accurate numbers,” she said.
The transmissions known as the Accredited Standards Committee X12 834 standard—more commonly known as the 834s—lets insurance companies know which people chose their plans and whether they're eligible for premium subsidies under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
House Republicans have pressed HHS and the CMS to offer a glimpse of enrollment figures so far. On Wednesday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) sent a letter to Internal Revenue Service Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel asking the agency to turn over all state-by-state data on the number of applicants the IRS has reviewed to determine eligibility for tax credits under the law, as well as the age of the applicants.
According to Camp's letter, Werfel noted at a tax conference on Tuesday that the IRS has received 1.3 million requests from state and federal insurance marketplaces and has acted on about 300,000 requests. Earlier this week, Camp issued a subpoena to the CMS seeking all data the agency has on enrollment in the exchanges. The Michigan Republican gave the IRS until Nov. 12 and the CMS until Nov. 8 to provide the information.
Follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter: @MHjzigmond