WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — In his weekly radio address Saturday morning, President Barack Obama said staff would be “working overtime, 24/7” to fix the kinks in the new health insurance marketplace website.
The online insurance markets were meant to be the portal to coverage for people who don’t get health benefits on the job. Middle-class people are to pick from subsidized private insurance plans, while low-income people are steered to Medicaid in states that have agreed to expand that safety-net program.
But glitches in the site have brought widespread frustration, and prompted hearings in Congress. In his address, Obama said work was under way to fix the glitches as soon as humanly possible.
“As you may have heard, the site isn’t working the way it’s supposed to yet. That’s frustrating for all of us who have worked so hard to make sure everyone who needs it gets health care. And it’s especially frustrating for the Americans who’ve been trying to get covered,” Obama said.
The sheer demand for the site has made it all the more crucial that staff get it working properly, President Obama said in the address.
“The site has been visited more than 20 million times so far. Nearly 700,000 people have applied for coverage already. That proves just how much demand there is for these new quality, affordable health care choices,” he said. “And that’s why, in the coming weeks, we are going to get it working as smoothly as it’s supposed to. We’ve got people working overtime, 24/7, to boost capacity and address these problems, every single day.”
Obama also emphasized that HealthCare.gov is not the only means available for applying for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
“We’ve updated HealthCare.gov to offer more information about enrolling over the phone, by mail, or in person with a specially-trained navigator who can help answer your questions. Just call 1-800-318-2596 or visit LocalHelp.HealthCare.gov,” Obama said. “Don’t worry – these plans will not sell out. We’re only a few weeks into a six-month open enrollment period, and everyone who wants insurance through the Marketplace will get it.”
Obama also took a jab at Republican critics who have been taking issue with the site, saying many want to see the Affordable Care Act go away altogether.
“It’s also 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 that they just shut down the government and threatened default over it,” Obama said. “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. But it’s well past the time for folks to stop rooting for its failure. Because hardworking, middle-class families are rooting for its success.”
This past Thursday, hearings on the site had Democrats and Republicans replaying the debate over the health care overhual that led to the 16-day government shutdown earlier this month.
“Five hundred million dollars later, we find the American public have been dumped with the ultimate cash for clunkers,” said Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.).
“Here we go again, another cynical effort by the Republicans to delay, defund or ultimately repeal the Affordable Care Act,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.)
Four of the more than 50 contractors who worked on HealthCare.gov spoke to the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the glitches and found themsleves caught in a buzz saw. They testified that, while their individual parts of the site may have worked as planned, there was not enough testing.
“We didn’t see the full kind of integrated, end-to-end system testing that you’re talking about until a couple of days leading up to the launch,” Web contractor Andrew Slavitt, representing the firm QSSI, answered one lawmaker.
Republicans said the glitches support their contention that the health care law should be delayed. Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) held up a tablet computer during the hearing with the website on it, saying, “I got this after 41 minutes: ‘Please log in again.'”
Democrats, meanwhile, said they, too, expected HealthCare.gov to work just like other well-traveled websites.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will face the committee next week.
The Obama administration has not provided a specific timetable for the issues to be resolved.
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