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President Barack Obama said Monday there was "no excuse" for the cascade of computer problems that have marred the rollout of key elements in his health care law but declared he was confident the administration would be able to fix the issues.
"There's no sugarcoating it," he said. "The website has been too slow, people have gotten stuck during the application process, and I think it's fair to say that nobody has been more frustrated by that than I am.”
The president said his administration was doing "everything we can possibly do" to get the federally run websites up and running. And he guaranteed that everyone who wants to get insurance through the new health care exchanges would be able to as the six-month enrollment period continues.
Obama made his comments during an event in the White House Rose Garden that had the feeling of a health care pep rally, with guests applauding as he ticked through what the White House sees as the main benefits of the law.
The president was introduced by a woman who had successfully signed up for health insurance through the marketplace in her home state of Delaware, telling the crowd that she was previously denied coverage by three private insurance companies because of existing conditions. She said the new health insurance plan that she signed up for through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) saves her $150 per month on premiums.
Acknowledging that technical problems have been part of the exchanges' rollout, Obama insisted that the health care law was about more than just a website alone.
"The essence of the law, the health insurance that's available to people, is working just fine," he said.
The White House says 20 million people have visited HealthCare.gov since the site went live on Oct. 1. Officials also say half a million people have applied for insurance on the federal- and state-run websites.
Initially, the Obama administration maintained that the volume of visitors — 9.5 million in the first week — was causing "glitches," but three weeks since launch, the problems persist.
Obama offered the example of the state of Oregon as a success story, telling the crowd that the number of uninsured people had been slashed by 10 percent since the insurance marketplace was launched three weeks ago.
“Think about that,” he said. “That’s 56,000 more Americans who now have health care. That doesn’t depend on a website.”
He repeated a statistic that his administration has cited previously that around six in 10 uninsured Americans will find that they can purchase insurance coverage for themselves for under $100 a month, “the equivalent of your cell phone bill,” through the new marketplaces, depending on where they live.
Administration officials initially blamed a high volume of interest for the frozen screens that many people encountered when they first logged on to the website. Since then, they have also acknowledged issues with software and some elements of the system's design.
However, the White House has yet to fully detail exactly what went wrong with the online system consumers are supposed to use to sign up for coverage. And Obama on Monday did not explain how the problems occurred in detail or why they were not fixed before sign-ups opened to the public.
He did say that top IT experts from private sector technology companies have stepped in to help fix the website’s glitches, and that he was “confident” they would fix all of the problems.
The president did acknowledge that the failures would provide new fodder for opponents of the law, often referred to as "Obamacare." With the website not working as intended, "that makes a lot of supporters nervous," he said.
He added, "It's time for folks to stop rooting for its failure. Because hardworking middle class families are rooting for its success. And if the product is good, they’re willing to be patient.”
In an ironic twist, the troubles with the health care rollout were overshadowed at first by Republican efforts to delay or defund the law in exchange for reopening the government during the 16-day shutdown. The bill that eventually reopened the government included no substantive changes to the health care law.
With the shutdown over, GOP lawmakers have been ramping up their criticism of the health care law's troubles.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, a central player in settling last week's fiscal impasse, said the healthcare law's problems intensify the need to delay the requirement that every American possess health insurance by March 31 or pay a penalty fee.
"Another campaign-style event won't solve the myriad problems facing consumers under Obamacare," McConnell said. "Obamacare costs too much and it's not working the way they promised. ... It's time for the president to consider delaying this rushed effort."
Republicans also renewed their demand that Obama's top health adviser, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, testify this week before a House of Representatives oversight hearing about the website's problems.
"Americans didn't get any answers from the president today, but the House's oversight of this failure is just beginning," said House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress.
A spokeswoman for Sebelius said the HHS secretary would testify next week - not this week - due to a scheduling conflict.
"We are in close communication with the committee and have expressed our desire to be responsive to their request," Sebelius spokeswoman Joanne Peters said.
Al Jazeera and wire services
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