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WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) – President Barack Obama said 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,” Obama said Monday in the White House Rose Garden. “Nobody is more frustrated than I am.”
Photos: Obama Addresses Healthcare Snafu
The president said his administration was doing “everything we can possibly do” to get the federally run websites up and running. He guaranteed that everyone who wants to get insurance through the new health care exchanges will be able to.
“The product is good, the health insurance that’s being provided is good — it’s high-quality and it’s affordable,” Obama said.
The remarks came at Obama’s first health care event since widespread problems with sign-ups online became apparent.
During the speech, a woman standing behind the President started to sway and close her eyes. The woman, identified as Karmel Allison, nearly fainted before Obama turned around said, “I’ve got ya. You’re OK,” and then joked, “This happens when I talk too long.”
Allison is pregnant and suffers from Type 1 diabetes, according to her blog. She was invited to attend the speech.
WEB EXTRA: Affordable Care Act Resource Center
Obama blamed the website problems in part to an overwhelming response. He said the program doesn’t depend on the website and there are other ways to sign up.
“We updated the website’s homepage to offer more information about the other avenues to enroll in affordable health care until the online option works for everybody,” he said.
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 were supposed to use to sign up for coverage.
Obama on Monday did not explain the problems in detail or why they were not fixed before sign-ups opened to the public.
As CBS 2′s Marcia Kramer reported, the steps the president said are being taken to address the failures include:
– adding staff at call centers, where people can bypass the website and apply by phone for insurance
– bringing in experts — both inside and outside the government — to diagnose the problems
– and calling people who tried and failed to complete the process on the Internet with instructions on how to proceed.
The uninsured have until March 31 to sign up or face federal penalties.
It’s still unclear how long it will take to fix the glitches. Obama urged people to use the call-in centers, saying it would take an individual about 25 minutes to sign up for insurance over the phone and about 45 minutes for a family policy.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney got testy when he was asked if the penalties will still kick in if the website is not fixed soon.
“First of all, we are way still early in the process, so you’re talking about a February 15th and March 31st deadline,” he said. “It is October 21st today, so let’s be clear about that we are three weeks into this.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday afternoon weighed in on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
The tech-savvy billionaire mayor came to the president’s defense, noting he can’t think of any big software rollout that didn’t have glitches.
“The issue is not, are there teething problems with affordable care act; the issue is, is it the right kind of solution to our problems. And you’re only going to know that when it gets implemented, and it will get implemented. They will get through these teething problems,” said Bloomberg. “My answer is cut them a break! Would they have loved to have put it in seamlessly, yes. But I don’t think that is conceivably possible when you have anything as complex – remember, some of the software problems are state software problems. Some are federal software problems. It’s a very complex thing.”
The White House said more than 19 million people have visited HealthCare.gov since the site went live Oct. 1. Officials also said a half-million people have applied for insurance on the federal- and state-run websites.
With the shutdown over, GOP lawmakers have been ramping up their criticism of the health care law’s troubles.
Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said the law “costs too much, and it’s not working the way they promised.”
The president did acknowledge that the website failures would provide new fodder for opponents of the law. With the website not working as intended, “that makes a lot of supporters nervous,” he said.
But he said, “it’s time for folks to stop rooting for its failure.”
Some Republicans are specifically calling for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to give up her job. “Absolutely, she should resign,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Sunday on CNN. “Why? Because the program she implemented, Obamacare, is a disaster. It’s not working. It’s hurting people all across this country.”
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