U.S. Sec. of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, visits Austin

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by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE News and Photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @AshleyG_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on October 25, 2013 at 6:29 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 25 at 6:41 PM

AUSTIN -- U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, toured the CommUnity Care Center in East Austin Friday morning. 

She saw firsthand how staff members are helping Austinites sign up for the Affordable Care Act through the one-on-one process. She also talked about the difficulty people are having signing up on the government's website, healthcare.gov.

"It's getting better, but it needs to get a lot better so everyone gets through quickly," Sebelius said.

Sebelius is under scrutiny over the site's inability to handle high traffic, which is something Austinite Kat Richards knows all too well.

"I tried every day for about 15 days until I eventually got through," Richards told Sebelius.

But when she finally was able to sign up, Richards says she was pleased.

"I was happy with the options. It was half the price of what I would have been offered through my employer. And my employer is actually graciously still offering to pay half of that," said Richards.

But not everyone is practicing patience when it comes to the website and the Spanish version has not yet been launched.

"What we don't want to do is bring people into a site that doesn't function well. I will tell you in the next couple of weeks it will be up and running," said Sebelius.

Sebelius said she realizes the website is flawed.

"In an ideal world, there would have been a lot more testing," said Sebelius. "We did not have the luxury with that with a law that said ‘it's go-time on Oct. 1’ and frankly a political atmosphere where the majority party, at least in the House, was determined to stop this any way they possibly could, including shutting down the United States government."

New technicians and management have been hired to fix the website and Sebelius says it is getting better every day.

"Believe me, no one is more unhappy about, well maybe the President is more unhappy than I am, but I would say that this is a top priority and it will be up and running," she said.

Some in Travis County say the sooner the website is up and running, the better.

"Twenty percent of the residents here do not have health insurance," said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. "A lot of people are kind of locked into a job they don't like, maybe they prefer to be doing something else, but they simply can't take the chance of being without health insurance."

Mark Sullivan delayed starting his own business for one year because he knows the importance of having health insurance.

"I lived in Nicaragua for five years and I've seen what happens to people when they don't have access to the coverage they need and I've seen how quickly accidents can happen. I once had surgery from a traveling Canadian surgeon on the balcony of a small town in January for a sting ray sting that got infected," Sullivan said.

A few months ago, Sullivan decided to start his own tech company, Vasolo.

"The health insurance exchange beginning in January was absolutely a factor in our decision," he said.

But he also had to deal with the frustration of signing up on healthcare.gov. It took him four days to get a plan, but he says in hindsight, the wait wasn't that bad.

"I'm paying less for health insurance with basically the equivalent amount of coverage when I was at my employer, previous employer," said Sullivan.

Until the website is fixed, Sebelius is reminding people they can also sign up over the phone by calling 1-800-318-2596, by mail and in person at facilities across the country.

 

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