The Obama administration said Sunday that it is calling in the “best and brightest” technicians to help fix the bug-laden federal website that has tarnished the rollout of the new health care law and galvanized the overhaul’s fiercest critics in Congress.
In a blog post, the Department of Health and Human Services struck a contrite tone after boasting that the site, which is supposed to help people in 36 states sign up for private coverage, has received 19 million unique visits since its debut on Oct. 1.
“Unfortunately, the experience on HealthCare.gov has been frustrating for many Americans,” the agency said. “Some have had trouble creating accounts and logging in to the site, while others have received confusing error messages, or had to wait for slow page loads or forms that failed to respond in a timely fashion. The initial consumer experience of HealthCare.gov has not lived up to the expectations of the American people. We are committed to doing better.”
President Obama is expected to acknowledge the technical issues with the website at a Monday event at the White House promoting the health care rollout.
The rocky launch of online insurance markets tied to the Affordable Care Act has disappointed even the law’s most ardent supporters, with pundits wondering how an Obama team known for its cutting-edge leveraging of technology during two presidential campaigns could flub the architecture of the administration’s signature domestic achievement.
Congressional Republicans say their worst fears about Obamacare are proving correct and have called for investigations and the resignation of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The secretary has not been made available to House Republicans for a hearing on the computer glitches this Thursday, attracting the ire of conservatives who have noted that Mrs. Sebelius appeared on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart a couple of weeks ago.
The government shutdown and negotiations on the nation’s debt limit overshadowed many of the problems with the health exchanges, but now the law’s execution is under the microscope.
The administration said Sunday that it has been working around the clock to add capacity and fix coding issues that contributed to the bugs.
“Our team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve HealthCare.gov,” HHS said in its posting. “We’re also putting in place tools and processes to aggressively monitor and identify parts of HealthCare.gov where individuals are encountering errors or having difficulty using the site, so we can prioritize and fix them.”
The federal government is responsible for running the sites in the 34 states that opted not to set up their own.
States have reported some glitches but numerous success stories as well, suggesting the state-run exchanges are more agile in some cases.
The HHS’s blog post stressed that the news is not all bad so far, because individuals using the system’s “federal data hub” has been able to verify consumers’ eligibility for tax credits and let them enroll in lost-cost plans.
The Associated Press reported over the weekend that about 476,000 health insurance applications have been filed through the federal and state exchanges.
However, the administration has refused to release figures that reflect how many people actually have enrolled in coverage, making it difficult to tell if the program is on pace to attract its goal of 7 million newly insured consumers during an open enrollment period that lasts through March 31.