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Health care signups increase to 364,682; numbers still far from reaching projected 1.2 million

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 11 2013 2:00 p.m. MST

Obama's law uses a two-track approach to expand coverage for the uninsured. Middle class people who don't have access to job-based insurance can buy government-subsidized private plans. Low-income people are steered to an expanded version of Medicaid in states accepting it, though not all do. The website is supposed to be the portal to both kinds of coverage.

The administration had spent $677 million on technology through the end of October, aiming for smoother operations, but with results still well short of perfection.

Republicans have called for Sebelius to resign, and some Democrats have urged Obama to fire those responsible for problems, but the White House has given no indication of a house-cleaning. Sebelius' request for an inspector general probe is a sign that there is more explaining to be done.

"I believe strongly in the need for accountability, and in the importance of being good stewards of taxpayer dollars," Sebelius said at the hearing Wednesday. She seemed to be pointing a finger at the Medicare agency, which is part of her department and oversees Obama's coverage expansion.

In addition to the inspector general review, Sebelius said she has ordered the agency to hire a new "chief risk officer" to make sure technology programs work as advertised. But like other major federal operations, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services already has several senior tech executives.

HealthCare.gov went live Oct. 1, and consumers immediately got bogged down. A two-month program of fixes directed by White House troubleshooter Jeffrey Zients stabilized the site and made it more workable, resolving hundreds of software glitches and adding more hardware to handle high demand from consumers.

Zients also found that the technical problems were compounded by inadequate oversight and coordination among teams working for the government and its contractors.

Obama, with his poll ratings dropping, not only accepted blame for website woes, but personally apologized for the canceled individual insurance policies. The cancellations issue is highly sensitive politically because it contradicts Obama's promise that if a person liked his coverage he would be able to keep it.

The president sought to calm the backlash by allowing states and insurers to extend existing plans for another year. But it's unclear to what extent insurers have taken advantage of the leeway.

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