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Obama joins critics of Obamacare site

Published time: October 21, 2013 16:53
Edited time: October 21, 2013 18:37
US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo/Jewel Samad)

US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo/Jewel Samad)

As the Affordable Care Act continues to suffer from serious technical issues, its troubled rollout has managed to enlist another frustrated critic: President Barack Obama.

Speaking from the White House Rose Garden on Monday, Obama acknowledged that the health care law’s signup methods aren’t working as smoothly as they should be.

“There is no sugarcoating it,” he said. “The website has been working too slow. There is no excuse for the problem.”

The president partly blamed the website’s issues on overwhelming interest and demand, though he added that the administration is bringing in technology experts from both inside and outside the government to help identify the core complications with HealthCare.gov and stabilize the site. Additionally, the government is significantly boosting staff at call centers, where people can apply for coverage over the phone. He did not establish a timetable for the fixes.

Monday’s speech found President Obama flanked by a group of people that the White House claims have successfully applied for health insurance coverage since the official debut of the Affordable Care Act’s health exchanges on October 1. While Obama recognized flaws in the law’s rollout, he also emphasized that there’s more to the law than just HealthCare.gov.

In fact, Obama repeatedly noted that that essence of the law – giving millions of Americans access to quality health insurance – is working just fine, and added that there are ways to sign up for coverage without using the website.

"We did not launch this long and contentious battle just about a website. That's not what this is about," Obama said, before pivoting to emphasize the safety guaranteed by having affordable health care.

According to Obama, HealthCare.gov has seen nearly 20 million unique visitors since it launched, including close to 500,000 insurance applications. However, the administration has not revealed how many people have been successful in their applications. Preliminary numbers are expected to be released in mid-November.

Still, Obama’s admission that the Affordable Care Act’s troubles are inexcusable join a growing chorus of critiques that are gradually spreading to other parts of Democratic leadership.

“What has happened is unacceptable in terms of the glitches,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said on ABC’s This Week. “They were overwhelmed to begin with. There is much that needs to be done to correct the situation.”

"This has to be fixed but what doesn't have to be fixed is the fact that tens of millions more people will have access to affordable quality health care.”

In addition to the headaches caused by HealthCare.gov’s technical difficulties, the administration also had to contend with reports that its developers used third party coding to power the website without giving proper credit. One of the site’s scripts, called DataTables, was originally created by British company SpryMedia and released as open-source under the condition that it be properly recognized.

Another investigation by DigitalTrends reporter Andrew Couts suggested that the troubled HealthCare.gov website cost an estimated $500 million – more than the price of both Facebook and Twitter, which operated for years before hitting a similar number. There are numerous voices now calling for the resignation of Kathleen Sebelius, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, who is in charge of implementing the Affordable Care Act. 

House Republicans will hold hearings on HealthCare.gov's technical glitches on Thursday, October 24. So far, Sebelius is declining to testify.