White House Addresses Health Care Website’s Shaky Launch

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The rollout of HealthCare.gov, the federal website where people can apply and buy insurance, is making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Numerous glitches and log-on problems, among many other issues, prompted a press event on Monday by President Obama to address concerns, and Senate Democrats have introduced legislation to delay the individual mandate by a year. In addition, House Republicans have planned a hearing on Thursday, October 24, to find out why HealthCare.gov was launched before it was ready.

The Health Insurance Marketplaces, also known as exchanges, opened on October 1, but HealthCare.gov, the federal exchange where consumers can browse and apply for insurance, has been plagued by problems for the past three weeks — in part because it was overloaded by consumers attempting to access the site, according to media reports.

The website, which cost $400 million, has stopped “millions” from even being able to log-in or compare insurance plans, as reported by the New York Times. In addition, some state-run exchanges had problems using the federal site’s verification hub to confirm online identities, another Times article noted, adding that enrollment files sent to insurers were few and many of the files were incomplete and missing important data. One IT specialist told the Times that “as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the website runs properly.”

The President said in his remarks on Monday that there was no sugarcoating the many issues with the website, but the exchanges would be fixed.  “The website has been too slow,” he said. “People have been getting stuck during the application process. And I think it’s fair to say that nobody’s more frustrated by that than I am. Precisely because the product is good, I want the cash registers to work, I want the checkout lines to be smooth, so I want people to be able to get this great product. And there’s no excuse for the problems.”

In response to the site’s numerous issues, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is drafting legislation that would delay the individual mandate for a year, as reported by U.S. News on NBCNews.com. The article noted that Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) also called for an extension of the open enrollment period and that Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) said he supported Shaheen’s “common sense idea.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing to ascertain why federal officials launched HealthCare.gov even after the Government Accountability Office issued a report stating that the exchange was behind schedule, as reported by USA Today.

However, the White House said it would remain firm on the open enrollment date and that if people sign up for health care by March 31, 2014, individuals would not face a penalty. (Previously, media outlets, including BTW, reported the deadline for the individual mandate to be January 1, 2014. However, the White House told U.S. News that the deadline had always been March 31, 2014.)

The President noted in his Monday remarks at the Rose Garden that his administration has had “some of the best IT talent in the entire country join the team,” and is “well into a tech surge to fix the problem.” He also added that there were other ways to apply for health insurance, via the telephone or in person with the help of local navigators — people specially trained to help people sign up for health care.

The White House hopes to have the website’s problems solved by November 1.