Obama defends health website as Republicans continue attacks | Barack obama

President Barack Obama on Saturday used his weekly address to advocate for the Healthcare.gov website at the heart of its healthcare reform, the Affordable Care Act. The $ 394 million website, which makes it easier for members of the public to buy health insurance, went live on October 1 but suffered from several issues.

This week, website entrepreneurs suffered a congressional grilling, and the administration announced a relaxation of penalties related to the March 31 deadline for members of the public to purchase health insurance. On Monday, Obama was forced to defend the website’s rollout at a press conference live from the White House rose garden.

On Saturday, to put it mildly, the President said: “As you may have heard, the site is not yet functioning as it should.”

In their official response to the address, the Republicans remained on the attack. Representative Fred Upton, Chairman of the House of Commons Energy and Commerce Committee who will interview Obama’s Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius next week, said: “Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayers invested, the website is still not working for the most part. ”

A number of Republicans have called for Sebelius’ resignation.

As Healthcare.gov grappled with issues, delays and bugs, the Obama administration withstood a week of scathing attacks from Republicans seeking to present a united front and capitalize on the issue after their failure to fund reform, known as Obamacare, via the recent 16-day government shutdown.

On Friday night, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, one of the architects of the shutdown, spoke in Des Moines, Iowa. Addressing an annual Republican fundraising dinner, he said: “One of the things we’ve accomplished in the fight against Obamacare is we’ve raised the national debate on what disaster, what train wreck , how Obamacare is hurting millions of Americans across this country. “

On Saturday, pollster Whit Ayres indicated Republican determination to prosecute the president further when he told The Associated Press: These are just one of the many fundamental problems with this law.

Senator Ted Cruz spoke in Iowa on Friday evening. Photograph: Jim Bourg / Reuters

In his speech, Obama sought to counter such views when he said, “It is… interesting to see Republicans in Congress expressing so much concern that people are having difficulty purchasing health insurance through the new website. – especially since they have spent the last few years so obsessed with denying these same people access to health insurance that they have just shut down the government and threatened not to do so.

“As I have said many times before, I am ready to work with anyone, on any idea, who is genuinely ready to improve the performance of this law. But it is high time that people cease to take root for its failure. “

On Friday, the contractor appointed by the White House to fix the website, Jeffrey Zients, set a timeline for his mission when he said, “By the end of November, Healthcare.gov will be running smoothly for the vast majority. users. The .gov site is repairable. It will take a lot of work and there are a lot of issues that need to be resolved. “

The website is supposed to make finding health insurance as easy as buying “a plane ticket on Kayak or a TV on Amazon.” In his speech, Obama said, “In the coming weeks we are going to make it work as well as expected. We have people working overtime, 24/7 to increase capacity and fix these issues, every day. . “

The president also described other ways for members of the public to purchase health care, including “over the phone, by mail or in person with a specially trained navigator who can help answer your questions.”
As a sign of the damage caused by the website’s poor performance, a former Obama administration official told Reuters that even if the website was fixed, it would face skepticism from the general public.

The former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “I think people are going to like the site and sign up for it. The problem is that once a user has a bad experience on a website , he usually does not go. want to go back. “

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Obama appoints Jeffrey Zients to fix health website | Health in the United States

The ailing Healthcare.gov website will be fixed by the end of November, the Obama administration said on Friday as the US government appointed a new contractor to lead the program.

Jeffrey Zients, the person President Obama has appointed to solve the problems, has vowed to “focus relentlessly on speed and execution,” nearly a month after the botched launch of health care, which has prevented people to sign up for Obama’s historic program.

Administration officials announced on Friday that one of the website’s contractors – QSSI – will now lead the initiative to repair the Healthcare.gov site. The managers of the Medicare and Medicaid service centers had previously played the lead role.

“By the end of November, Healthcare.gov will be running smoothly for the vast majority of users,” Zients said Friday. “The Healthcare.gov site is repairable. It will take a lot of work and there are a lot of issues that need to be resolved. “

Zients, who has been the president’s go-to problem-solving man, said the government and private sector team providing the “tech push” had completed a flaw assessment of the website.

Zients said the sheer volume of apps on the site caused initial problems. The site received 14.6 million visitors in its first days of operation. But Zients added that issues at the site had exacerbated the situation, leading to frozen pages and error messages.

“These are bugs that prevent software from working as it is supposed to,” he said. “There is a list of fixes, and we’re going to eliminate them one by one.”

Andrew Slavitt, executive vice president of QSSI, told Congress this week that the software “has now kept pace with demand” and had “near zero error rates” since October 8.

Healthcare.gov covers people in all 36 states who have refused to run their own health insurance scholarships. About 700,000 requests were made across the country, and half of them arrived through the website. The White House aims to have 7 million uninsured Americans covered by the program by the end of March.

Senate Democrats have written Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to request an extension of the open registration period for the Health Care Act while the site’s issues are resolved.

“In view of the existing issues with Healthcare.gov and other state-run marketplace websites that depend on the federally-administered website, we urge you to consider extending the open listing beyond the current end date of March 31, 2014, “the Senators wrote.

“Extending this period will give consumers critical time to familiarize themselves with the website and choose the plan that is best for them. Individuals should not be penalized for lack of coverage if they cannot purchase health insurance due to technical issues. “

Zients’ announcement follows an acrimonious hearing Thursday in which Republicans accused the government of being aware of major issues at the site ahead of the launch and contractors said they warned the government of the issues.

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Official who made the big health website decision a frequent visitor to the White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The government official identified as responsible for a last-minute decision that helped block the Obamacare health insurance website has been in the White House frequently, according to visitor logs.

A man looks at the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) registration page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York City in this photo illustration from October 2, 2013. REUTERS / Mike Segar

Henry Chao, deputy director of information at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), was named Thursday in congressional testimony as the one that ordered the prime contractor to register consumers before seeking price information , a step avoided by popular online shopping sites like Amazon.com.

As a result of this decision made just two weeks before the website went public on October 1, Healthcare.gov was overwhelmed with so many people trying to sign up at the same time the site crashed, Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president of prime contractor CGI Federal, told U.S. lawmakers wanting to know why the site was in so much trouble.

“I believe it was Henry Chao and his team members,” Campbell told the House of Representatives’ energy and trade committee.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, is the lead agency for the health care program.

Republican Obamacare opponents reviewing the website’s problems have attempted to find out why the change was made and whether the White House was involved in it, theorizing that the administration was trying to put up a barrier that would prevent consumers from finding out. the actual costs of the premiums they would pay.

However, they provided no evidence to support this claim and the administration denied such a ground. A CMS spokeswoman said on Friday the agency was trying to “prioritize the ability for us to launch live so consumers can conduct the full online application process.”

She didn’t want to say if Chao had made the decision that Campbell said caused problems.

White House visitor records show that Chao visited the White House 36 times between November 2011 and May 2013, with a visit in December 2009, to see President Barack Obama’s advisers, including officials. health care and technology.

The records, which were voluntarily disclosed by the White House, provide information on visits up to August 2013. No records were yet available for the month leading up to the launch, so it was not possible to determine whether Chao visited the White House during this period. .

Chao, asked for comment, referred Reuters to CMS. Neither the White House nor others at CMS immediately responded to requests for comment on Chao’s role.

From May 2012, Chao began to visit often, spending time in the White House or the old executive office building, where many administrative offices are based, several times a month. He visited at least once a month between May 2012 and May 2013.

Although he met a range of officials, he most often saw White House health official Jeanne Lambrew.

Two of Chao’s visits with Lambrew followed his comments at a conference on March 14, 2013, when he said he was “quite nervous” about the deployment of the law’s online system.

“Let’s just make sure it’s not a third world experience,” CQ said at the time. He then visited the White House on March 19 and 26.

Chao also met with White House CTO Todd Park on two separate occasions – in April 2012 and January 2013 – and then CIO Steven VanRoekel in February 2012.

Chao was a point of contact for contractor CGI Federal as he worked to build the technology backbone of the Healthcare.gov website. CGI Federal is a unit of CGI Group Inc., based in Canada.

Some Republicans, including House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, say they believe the White House was trying to hide the “sticker shock” of online insurance premiums in order to entice people to purchase insurance under the Affordable Care Act of 2010, also known as Obamacare.

But when asked if Chao and other CMS members gave reasons for not putting the ‘browser’ option online on the website and whether the decision was political, Campbell told lawmakers: “I cannot answer if it was political or otherwise. “

She also said she was not aware of any political interference by the White House herself in her work on Heatlhcare.gov.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; Editing by Fred Barbash and Ken Wills

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