For the first time, someone in the Obama administration apologized for the problem-plagued Obamacare website.
Marilyn Tavenner also said on Tuesday that the online troubles were being resolved and the overall program was working, albeit slower and less successfully than hoped.
In the first congressional testimony from a government official on the botched launch of HealthCare.gov, the head of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told the House Ways and Means Committee that the "vast majority" of consumers would be able to successfully use the site by the end of November.
"I want to apologize to you that the website does not work as well as it should," she said, adding that HealthCare.gov "can and will be fixed."
The hearing served as a hot seat for Tavenner, whose agency has been blamed for the website troubles causing a political headache for President Barack Obama and his signature health care reforms, as well as a venting session for Republicans after their failed efforts to scuttle the reforms.
Tavenner reports to Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has come under fire for the problems that plagued the introduction of the enrollment website.
Some congressional Republicans demand her resignation or firing, and Sebelius will face a hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday.
She is expected to tell that committee the initial experience of HealthCare.gov has been frustrating for many, and unacceptable.
But she will also defend Obamacare, according to prepared remarks.
"The fact is that the Affordable Care Act delivered on its product: quality, affordable health insurance. The tremendous interest shown in HealthCare.gov shows that people want to buy this product. We know the initial consumer experience at HealthCare.gov has not been adequate. We will address these initial and any ongoing problems, and build a website that fully delivers on this promise of the Affordable Care Act," Sebelius is expected to say.
The health secretary will provide figures for the site, which has had more than 20 million unique visits to date. Over the past few weeks, nearly 700,000 applications have been submitted. People are also signing up through a call center, paper applications and in-person assistance.
"By enlisting additional technical help, aggressively monitoring errors, testing to prevent new issues from cropping up, and regularly deploying fixes to the site, we are working to ensure consumers' interaction with HealthCare.gov is a positive one, and that the Affordable Care Act fully delivers on its promise," Sebelius will say.
In an exclusive interview last week, the health secretary told CNN that Obama didn't know of the problems with the Affordable Care Act's website until after its troubled launch on October 1. This was despite the fact that insurance companies had been complaining and the site crashed during a prelaunch test run.
More trouble for Obama came out of the testimony, as Tavenner conceded that some people with individual health coverage -- rather than the group coverage that most Americans have -- will be forced to get new policies because of increased requirements under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
"These individuals in a small group, our individual markets, had no protections" before the reforms became law, Tavenner explained.
Until now, such consumers "could be kicked out any time for pre-existing conditions" or realize too late that their policies failed to cover hospitalization or cancer treatments, Tavenner said. The reforms protect them by requiring a minimum standard of coverage, she added.
For some, that means more expensive policies and any change breaks the oft-repeated pledge by Obama that "if you like your plan, you can keep your plan" when he was pushing for Congress to pass his signature reforms.
Republican Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois hammered Tavenner on that point, noting a constituent who got a letter telling her that the health care reforms caused the cancellation of her current plan with a more expensive alternative in its place.
"She has health insurance that she likes. She's been paying her premium. She wants to keep it. But she can't," Schock said. "Isn't that a lie?"
Tavenner responded that some insurers changed or discontinued plans that failed to meet the Obamacare requirements, even though present coverage could still be offered in some cases under a "grandfather" provision in the legislation, despite lacking the full benefits of the reforms.
She advised anyone being forced to get a new policy to examine all options under the new system, including the possibility of getting federal subsidies if they are eligible.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation website, 15.4 million people had individual health care coverage in 2011, representing about 5% of the population. The vast majority of Americans -- at least two-thirds of the population in 2011 -- had coverage through their employer, Medicare, Medicaid or other public providers and will not be affected by changes involving individual coverage.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said "a significant portion" of the 5% of people with individual coverage will end up paying less for better policies when they shop around in the new exchanges.
"One of the issues that the Affordable Care Act was designed to address was the need to provide greater security to those Americans forced to seek insurance on the individual market," Carney said.