No Promises on Nov. 30 Obamacare Website Fix: U.S. Technology Chief

Pressure mounts for solutions to health-law problems as deadline nears

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By Karen Pallarito
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 13 (HealthDay News) -- The nation's chief of information technology would not confirm on Wednesday whether the hobbled HealthCare.gov insurance exchange website would be fixed by month's end.

Todd Park, U.S. chief technology officer, who serves as an advisor to the White House, said the team's goal is to get the site "working smoothly for the vast majority of Americans" by Nov. 30.

"The team is working incredibly hard to meet that goal," he told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee under oath.

His comments came the same day that federal officials released enrollment figures for the first time. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that 106,185 Americans have selected plans from the federal and state insurance exchanges, sometimes called marketplaces.

The Obama administration had hoped to enroll as many as 500,000 people through HealthCare.gov by the end of October, according to internal memos.

Meanwhile, politicians on both sides of the aisle amped up the pressure on the administration -- not only for a fix to the troubled website but for a solution to the loss of insurance coverage that many Americans are facing effective Jan. 1.

On Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton joined Republican opponents of Obamacare in calling for changes in the health-reform law to allow insurance companies to retain policies that do not meet new standards under the law, The New York Times reported.

"I personally believe even if it takes a change in the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got," Clinton said in the interview published by the web magazine Ozy, the Times reported.

White House officials are struggling to keep President Barack Obama's promise that Americans can keep their health insurance without undermining or adding to its costs, the Times said, adding that administration officials would not say how they might achieve that goal.

Six weeks after the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, members of the administration have appeared multiple times before key House and Senate committees where they were asked what went wrong with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's signature domestic policy achievement.

HealthCare.gov is the federally run health exchange where people in 36 states may enroll in private health coverage, oftentimes with federal tax subsidies. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia are running their own health exchanges.

At Wednesday's House Oversight committee hearing, the administration's top information technology experts conceded problems with the federal website. But they denied assertions by committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and other Republicans that the rocky launch was partly due to a White House directive to pull a key function off the site.

"Clearly on Day One the system was overwhelmed by volume," acknowledged Park, the U.S. chief technology officer.

Both Park and Henry Chao, deputy director of the Office of Information Services at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, insisted that a last-minute decision to have HealthCare.gov users complete an application before seeing their health-plan options was not by White House dictate. Rather, it was that the "shopping" function did not work well.

"In this case, it failed so miserably that we could not consciously let people use it," Chao said.

In testimony, Karen Evans, a former U.S. Office of Management and Budget official, told the committee that HealthCare.gov's functionality and shortcomings "are the result of bad management decisions made by policy officials within the administration; they did this to themselves."

More information

Learn how to get insurance coverage through the new health exchanges.

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