MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Seven weeks to the day since the troubled healthcare.gov website was launched, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was in Miami, meeting with so-called “navigators” who are helping the public get signed up for coverage.
Sebelius is a member of the President’s Cabinet. With all the suits, security and cameras following her, you would have thought that President Obama was visiting Tuesday afternoon in what was clearly a highly orchestrated media event to focus on the positive, after so many negative media reports about the Obamacare sign-up process.
Sebelius, wearing green, walked through the front doors of North Shore Hospital near Miami Shores where she shook hands with hospital staff and members of the Epilepsy Foundation who are staffing the Obamacare Navigation center housed off the hospital’s lobby. There she met with the team helping South Floridians to sign-up on line or on paper.
“So she is being helpful,” asked the secretary to a couple sitting at one table of a navigator. “Absolutely,” they responded.
At a second table, the secretary met Carmen Salero who was trying to sign up online. As the secretary and Salero made small talk, CBS4’s Brian Andrews noticed the site crash on the lap top in front of them.
“The screen says I’m sorry but the system is temporarily down,” Andrews pointed out. “Uh oh,” responded the secretary. “That happens every day,” said Salerno, “it must mean a lot of people are on there trying to get coverage.”
A throng of cameras and reporters trailed the secretary’s every move in the small room. “I didn’t mean to bring the Paparazzi,” the Secretary joked as she met Willy Williams of Miami who was working with a navigator to get signed up. “It went down three times,” said Williams referring to the site, “but we’re just going to keep trying,” he added.
Nick Bianchi, who owns a Social Media Consulting firm on Miami Beach, was selected by HHS to meet the secretary personally based on what he posted on Twitter about his positive experience during the sign up process.
“I selected a silver plan,” Nick said. “The website didn’t work for me so I ended up waiting on papers from the provider I selected.” Nick told the secretary his new plan, effective January 1st, will run a little more than $300.00 a month. “Hearing your situation is really helpful,” the secretary told Bianchi.
Later, at a news conference, Secretary Sebelius told reporters, “The only way to change the narrative is to change the narrative and get people connected with the coverage they need.” She said that she was told that since Tuesday morning, at least two more South Floridians had successfully signed up for the program. She repeatedly said the government website did not have enough testing before it was launched.
“Had I known then, what I know now, things would have been different,” she added.
In response to a question from CBS4’s Brian Andrews about what she learned from her visit to South Florida today, the secretary said it’s the frustration so many are feeling.
“They are frustrated with the web experience they had but they are eager enough to get coverage that they are going to return over and over again.” The secretary went on to say she knows some people out there have just had it. “We know we’re going to have to work really hard to get you to come back,” she said.