Nov. 8, 2013 -- Kathleen Sebelius, the beleaguered Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), tried to put a better face on the rocky rollout of the HealthCare.gov web site during two stops in Atlanta on Friday.
During her visit, Sebelius announced new rules that will boost mental-health insurance coverage. She also announced new federal grants for community health centers that are helping people sign up for health insurance. But it also was a chance for Sebelius to escape her problems in the nation's capital.
Greeting a crowd at a mental health symposium at the Carter Center, Sebelius said she was pleased to be in Georgia.
"Anywhere out of Washington these days is a good place to be," she said, 2 days after intense questioning from the Senate Finance Committee over the continuing problems with open enrollment. The sympathetic crowd responded with appreciative laughter.
Later, the secretary was surrounded by cameras and microphones as she met with hospital navigators, who were busy helping patients at Southside Medical Center sign up for new health insurance coverage through Georgia's federally run Marketplace.
Southside is one of 236 community health centers that will share $150 million in new grants to expand coverage to 1.26 million more patients nationally. It’s also a place where half the patients are uninsured.
The grants will help Southside support its staff of four navigators, the specially trained guides who help people through the process of applying for coverage.
"There are eight people on the computer right now. All of them are up and running. They're all in the process of applying," Sebelius said. "So it's getting better. It's not where we need it to be. But it is getting better. I was thrilled to go into the room and everybody was on the system," she added, laughing.
The massive computer system has been plagued with problems and delays since its highly anticipated rollout on Oct. 1. HHS has brought in a team of specialists and hired a private firm to oversee correcting the problems. They’ve promised to have it running more smoothly by the end of November.
'The Lesser-Told Story'
Sebelius also introduced reporters to two people who'd successfully applied for new coverage through the Marketplace.
Among them were Michael Lappin, 44, and his partner John West, 49, who own a local mortgage company. They said they signed up for a new Humana policy that will jointly save them more than $5,200 a year over what they pay for their current policy. And that's without any financial help from the federal government. Their incomes are too high to qualify for tax credits.
They said that their deductible will drop from $1,500 to $1,000 a year, and they'll get better coverage with their new plan. "I don't think we're an exception,” Lappin said. “I think we're the lesser-told story."