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Sebelius to face grilling over website’s rollout

Kathleen Sebelius will testify on Wednesday.

AP/File

Kathleen Sebelius will testify on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON — Republicans said Sunday that they intend to press Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the Obama administration’s troubled launch of healthcare.gov, the online portal to buy insurance, and concerns about the privacy of information that applicants submit under the new system.

The Obama administration will face intense pressure next week to be more forthcoming about how many people have succeeded in enrolling for coverage in the new insurance markets. Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner is to testify during a House hearing Tuesday, followed Wednesday by Sebelius before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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The officials also will be questioned about how such crippling technical problems could have gone undetected before the website’s Oct. 1 launch.

‘‘The incompetence in building this website is staggering,’’ said Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the second-ranking Republican on the panel.

Democrats said the new system needed time to get up and running, and it could be fixed to provide millions of people with affordable insurance.

Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press’’ that the system was ‘‘working in Kentucky,’’ a state that has dealt with ‘‘some of the worst health statistics in the country.’’

“The only way we’re going to get ourselves out of the ditch is some transformational tool,” like the new health insurance system,’’ Beshear said.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,’’ Blackburn said she wanted to know how much has been spent on the website, how much more it will cost to fix the problems, when everything will be ready and what people should expect to see on the site. Blackburn and Representative Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan, asked if the site could guard the privacy of applicants.

‘‘The way the system is designed it is not secure,’’ said Rogers, who leads the House Intelligence Committee.

The administration sought to reassure applicants about their personal information. HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said when consumers fill out their applications, ‘‘they can trust that the information they’re providing is protected by stringent security standards and that the technology underlying the application process has been tested and is secure.’’

The botched rollout has led to calls on Capitol Hill for a delay of penalties for those remaining uninsured. The Obama administration has said it is willing to extend the grace period until March 31, the end of open enrollment. That would be an extra six weeks. The insurance industry says going beyond that risks undermining the system by giving younger, healthier people a pass.

Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, who seeks a yearlong delay to the penalty for noncompliance, said his approach would ‘‘still induce people to get involved, but it will also give us the time to transition in.’’

“I think we need that transition period to work out the things,’’ Manchin said on ABC’s “This Week.’’

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, who has urged the Obama administration to postpone the March 31 deadline, said she was fears applicants will not have a full six months to enroll.

The administration was under no legal requirement to launch the website Oct. 1. Sebelius had the discretion to set open enrollment dates.

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