A top Republican lawmaker said Thursday that a federal website tied to Obamacare "should have been the easy part" and that is it time for contractors and officials to admit what they knew ahead of time about the glitches that are spoiling the rollout of President Obama's key legacy item.
"Over the months leading up to the October 1 launch, top administration officials and lead contractors appeared before this committee, looked us in the eye, and assured us repeatedly that everything was 'on track,' " Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said at the outset of an oversight hearing. "Except that it wasn't, as we now know all too well."
The rocky rollout this month of the online portal, known as an exchanges, has embarrassed and angered President Obama as he tries to prove that the Affordable Care Act was worth the legislative wrangling, court battles and political fights leading up to this month's launch.
Democrats and the White House have preached patience, noting open enrollment on the program lasts until March 31.
They said the ultimate goal should be to "fix it, not nix it," and GOP lawmakers are harming people by throwing up roadblocks to the law.
"The Republicans don't have clean hands coming here," said Rep. Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat.
Ranking member Henry Waxman, California Democrat, said Thursday the law has been an enormous success, with the major caveat that the website is not working as it should.
"The law has already accomplished a lot," he said, noting earlier provisions of the law that saved Americans money, and there is "extraordinary demand" for the exchanges, where those without employer-based insurance can buy private insurance, often with the help of income-based government subsidies.
"We know that people want to shop," he said, noting they are unlikely to be penalized under the law's individual mandate if they cannot enroll on the website.
But Mr. Upton said the administration "appears allergic to transparency and continues to withhold enrollment figures."
House Republicans called the hearing to grill lead-contractor CGI Federal and three other companies about what went wrong with the site, HealthCare.gov, and components of the data hub that connects multiple federal agencies to help residents of three dozen states shop for private insurance, often with the help of government subsidies.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, said the past three weeks of "exchange messiness" prove nobody should be a "blind cheerleader" for the health care law.
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