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White House launches ‘tech surge’ to boost capacity, de-bug health care website

October 23, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
On their first day back in session since the shutdown, House members called out the faults of the health care online exchanges and called for needed fixes. Congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports on efforts being made by the Obama administration to continue enrollment despite the site's technical troubles.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Our lead story tonight: The problems implementing the new health care law were front and center in Washington. Both sides scrambled to address the failures and the possible fixes.

NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.

REP. ERIC CANTOR, R-Va.: The rollout of Obamacare is nothing short of a debacle, and the American people are now fearful of their health care.

KWAME HOLMAN: The House returned to work for the first time since the government shutdown ended, and Republicans quickly turned to the balky Web site where uninsured Americans are supposed to enroll for health insurance.

GOP leaders posted this video reenactment of a New Jersey man’s experience with the site.

MAN: You have no way to assist those that ask for help?

WOMAN: Don’t run with scissors.

MAN: Why is there even a chat option on the page if you can’t look up an application and assist?

KWAME HOLMAN: Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the problems are so bad, the administration should delay the penalty for those who don’t get insurance.

ERIC CANTOR: I mean, with so many unanswered questions and the problems arising around this rollout, it doesn’t make any sense to impose this 1 percent mandate tax on the American people.

KWAME HOLMAN: Speaker John Boehner promised there will be investigations with one hearing already set for tomorrow.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: I think the biggest part of Congress’ job is to provide proper oversight of the executive branch of government, and whether it’s Obamacare or issues over at the Department of Defense, it’s our job to hold them accountable.

KWAME HOLMAN: On the other hand, Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said the priority should be getting the system up and running.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif.: There certainly is accountability internally in terms of what decisions were made when on all of this. But I think that our focus and energy should be used to fix it, because the American people are depending on it.

KWAME HOLMAN: While party leaders jousted, the Obama administration ramped up damage control efforts. On CNN last night, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said President Obama was unaware of the extent of the problems before the Web site premiered.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary: No one could be more frustrated than I am and the president that this isn’t smooth. People are signing up every day,

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN: The president did say that he was angry about this. I mean, do you know when he first knew that there was a problem?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: Well, I think it became clear fairly early on, the first couple of days that…

SANJAY GUPTA: So, not before that, though? Not before October 1?


KWAME HOLMAN: The administration also has launched a kind of fix-it surge to be overseen by Jeffrey Zients, former head of the Office of Management and Budget.

And officials have set up call centers as a substitute for the Web site. In the meantime, the president is urging supporters not to despair.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have got people working overtime in a tech surge to boost capacity and address the problems.

KWAME HOLMAN: Also today, The Washington Post reported some of the nonprofit health insurance co-ops created to foster competition are struggling to survive. And starting tomorrow, the Department of Health and Human Services begins a new effort to try to address problems quickly by giving daily briefings on their activities.