Obama promises end to health care website glitches

The president said the online health care market would soon be fixed, and defended the law against Republican attacks

Barack Obama speaks about the Affordable Care Act alongside health care professionals and people affected by the new legislation, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Oct. 21, 2013.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama on Saturday promised that the glitch-ridden government website recently launched for people to buy health insurance online was just weeks away from being fixed, and criticized Republicans for attacking the law behind the site.

"As you may have heard, the site isn't working the way it's supposed to yet," Obama said in his customary Saturday address – after weeks of reports of people being shut out of the system.

"In the coming weeks, we are going to get it working as smoothly as it's supposed to," he said.

Obama also announced a plan Friday to make – the online marketplace for insurance made available under his administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) – work better by Nov. 30.

The president and his top officials had warned the public before the website’s Oct. 1 launch that it might have some snags, but the White House has been scrambling to control the political damage from a rollout that has been far worse than expected.

Despite acknowledging the shortcomings of a crucial part of the ACA rollout, Obama on Saturday slammed Republicans for their tactical shift in attacking his program. He said the GOP had flipped from trying to defund the ACA – a strategy that was at the heart of the 16-day government shutdown this month – to now criticizing the website.

Obama said it was “interesting to see Republicans in Congress expressing so much concern that people are having trouble buying health insurance through the new website – especially considering they’ve spent the last few years so obsessed with denying those same people access to health insurance.”

“As I’ve said many times before, I’m willing to work with anyone, on any idea, who’s actually willing to make this law perform better,” he said.  “But it’s well past the time for folks to stop rooting for its failure.” 

Notes on an emergency

Obama adviser Jeffrey Zients, appointed Tuesday to figure out how to manage the complicated fixes for the website, was an unannounced participant on a conference call with health reporters on Friday afternoon.

Zients gave a deadline, although he cautioned there was a lot of work to do. "By the end of November, will work smoothly for the vast majority of users," he said.

Zients said he had hired a "general contractor" to manage the many contractors on the project, and had developed a "punch list" of dozens of problems to address.

On Saturday, Republicans continued to use the problems with the website to push for a delay to the ACA requirement that Americans buy insurance by March 31.

"Despite hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars invested, the website still does not work for most," Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in the Republican reply to Obama's Saturday address.

Upton's panel is set to question Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the ACA rollout at a hearing in the coming days.

House lawmakers on Thursday grilled the contractors who developed the buggy website. The contractors had to answer to the House Energy and Commerce Committee at a hearing in which the two companies, CGI Federal and Quality Software Systems Inc., faced tough questions about the malfunctions.

In prepared testimony, executives from the two contractors pointed fingers at each other and the federal government.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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