U.S. surgeon general says Healthcare.gov making progress

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts Tue Dec 3, 2013 7:32pm EST

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CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts Dec 3 (Reuters) - The acting U.S. surgeon general said on Tuesday he was "enthusiastic" about the recent improvements to the troubled HealthCare.gov website, which was designed to allow users to shop for health insurance required under new reforms.

Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak, who has been acting as the surgeon general since July, said President Barack Obama's administration had acknowledged there was "still a way to go" to fix the site, "but in fact progress is being made."

"When I looked at some of the numbers recently - a million, for example, hits or a million people at least connecting up with the site, I get a sense of enthusiasm that we're headed obviously in the right direction," he told Reuters ahead of a health care innovation conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Earlier on Tuesday, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said more than 1 million visitors had checked out the website on Monday, the first day after a major overhaul.

The site was launched on Oct. 1 as a gateway for consumers in 36 states to buy health insurance plans easily under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, which was passed in 2010. Other states run their own marketplaces.

But the federal website has been fraught with problems, leaving users frustrated by errors and slow speeds.

The portal is intended to help move the United States closer to universal care by subsidizing insurance sold by the private sector for less affluent families.

Lushniak said his office had not been intimately involved in setting up the website, but was contributing to the program from a public health perspective.

"What I'm most concerned about is the number of uninsured and underinsured in our nation, and that ultimately I need to have resolution of that for the good of the public's health," Lushniak said.

Lushniak said that implementing a national strategy on preventing health problems will be an important job for his successor, Vivek Hallegere Murthy, who has been nominated by Obama to be the next U.S. surgeon general.

"We're going to expect some great leadership pointing us in the direction of prevention," he said, citing early diagnoses and exercise as preventive measures. (Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Phil Berlowitz)

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