Health care website problems the target of hearing
APWASHINGTON -- Republicans who failed to defund President Barack Obama's signature health care overhaul by shutting down the government had their first chance in Congress to question widespread problems with the website where Americans are meant to sign up for health insurance. Contractors said the crippled site wasn't fully tested until the last couple of weeks before the system's Oct. 1 launch.
October 26, 2013, 12:04 am TWN
The U.S. has been the only major developed country without a national health care system, and the overhaul was supposed to change that. The system is not the centralized, government-run setup seen in places like Britain and instead uses various ways to require or encourage Americans to get private or, for the poor or elderly, government-provided insurance.
What's known as Obamacare is the closest the U.S. has ever come to universal health care after a century of efforts, and it has been under heavy attack by Republicans from the start. Now, with congressional elections coming next year, the opposition is using the Obama administration's handling of the troubled launch to regain momentum after the government shutdown fight.
Obama says he's as frustrated as anyone and has promised a “tech surge” to fix the health website.
People have until March 31 to sign up for coverage. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office had projected that about 7 million people would gain coverage during the first year. Enrollment figures are being closely guarded by the administration, which plans to release the first data in mid-November.
A hearing Thursday focused on the contractors who built the federal government's website. The Obama administration said Wednesday that the system didn't get enough testing, especially at a high user volume, before going live. It blamed a compressed time frame for meeting the deadline to open the insurance markets.
Obama's fellow Democrats have acknowledged the website's problems but said millions of uninsured Americans are counting on Obamacare to finally get coverage — and thousands are succeeding in signing up. They accuse Republicans of trying to sabotage the law, not to fix it.
Until now, Republicans had been on the defensive, suffering record low approval ratings after their failed strategy to defund Obamacare led to the 16-day partial government shutdown and pushed the U.S. to the brink of a debt default. The shutdown began Oct. 1 — the same day the insurance markets launched.
Now Democrats, who had hoped to run for re-election next year on the benefits of Obama's biggest domestic achievement as president, are on the defensive. Six Senate Democrats up for re-election next year have proposed delaying the new March 31 deadline for applying for coverage while the problems are worked out.
The technical glitches have called into question whether the Obama administration can implement its complex policy and why the White House apparently was caught off-guard by the scope of the problems.