Sen. Tom Harkin
Sen. Tom Harkin
November 7, 2013

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, this morning expressed confidence in the prospects for a fully functioning government health-insurance website. What's more, the Iowa senator said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who oversaw the launch of the troubled site,, should retain her cabinet position.

"I take a issue with it being a disaster," Harkin said during a conference call with The Daily Times Herald and other media. "It certainly is a setback, a bump in the road."

Harkin said the hundreds of reported glitches with collectively amount to a "mechanical problem."

The online marketplaces opened Oct. 1 and have been challenging to access, raising concerns that not enough young, healthy Americans will sign up to moderate costs under what is widely known as Obamacare.

"This is a machine," Harkin said. "The health-care law, the Affordable Care Act, is more than just a website. It's a whole new regime, a whole new value system of how we do health care in America. One part of it is the website."

President Barack Obama Wednesday met with Democratic senators to discuss efforts to repair the flawed site.

Sebelius, during a Senate hearing, said she accepted responsibility for a "miserable five weeks" and the "excruciatingly awful" initial experiences with the site.

"I think Sebelius did take responsibility for it," Harkin said. "But then they gathered forces together to find out why it didn't work right."

According to The New York Times, Sebelius said that the first official enrollment numbers, to be released next week, were "likely to be quite low, given the struggles that people have had getting access to the site and getting information."

Harkin, on the conference call, said he has reassurances that the site will be fixed. It goes down every night from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. for service. Americans can also apply by phone and through traditional mail, he said.

Many critics jumped on troubles with the rollout in an effort to use them as a referendum on the full reach of the historic overhaul, Harkin said.

"We're moving ahead with everything else," Harkin said. "The rest of the law is being implemented right now."

Problems with the website don't affect key provisions like preventing insurance companies from cutting off people with pre-existing conditions, the senator said.

"A lot of this is not being talked about because, well, quite frankly, the Republicans who wanted to kill this program from the very beginning will look at anything to try to hold it up as a failure of the law in total," he said.

Harkin said he expects problems to be ironed by the Obama-imposed Nov. 30 deadline - and that Sebelius is up to the job.

"I don't think she should be fired at all," Harkin said. "If she had tried to cover it up and tried to point blame at something else, and all that kind of stuff, I'd say 'yeah.' But you know, people make mistakes, machines break down."

That considered, Harkin said, the administration did not test the website thoroughly enough in the beginning.

"I sort of jokingly said they should have turned it over to and they probably could have run the whole thing a lot better," Harkin said.