Obama to critique health care site glitches as ‘unacceptable’

BY Terence Burlij  October 21, 2013 at 9:35 AM EST

Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Barack Obama will address glitches with the online health insurance marketplace on Monday, fresh off a weeks-long battle over government funding and raising the debt limit that saw congressional Republicans make repeated runs at defunding or delaying his signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act. The Morning Line

With the HealthCare.gov website plagued by technical difficulties since its launch three weeks ago, an administration official says the president will declare those troubles “unacceptable” in his remarks, scheduled for 11:25 a.m. ET at the White House. Mr. Obama also will use the event to highlight the benefits of the health care reform law, reminding the public that it is “about much more than just a website,” the official added.

The Department of Health and Human Services said over the weekend that its staff has been “working around the clock to make improvements,” adding new features to the website and making clear to visitors that they can apply for benefits over the phone.

“Unfortunately, the experience on HealthCare.gov has been frustrating for many Americans. Some have had trouble creating accounts and logging in to the site, while others have received confusing error messages, or had to wait for slow page loads or forms that failed to respond in a timely fashion,” HHS officials said in a blog post published Sunday. “The initial consumer experience of HealthCare.gov has not lived up to the expectations of the American people. We are committed to doing better.”

The statement went on to say: “Our team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve HealthCare.gov.”

The New York Times’ Sharon LaFraniere, Ian Austen and Robert Pear report on the discussions between the Obama administration and the federal contractors working on the fixes to the online marketplace:

Administration officials approached the contractors last week to see if they could perform the necessary repairs and reboot the system by Nov. 1. However, that goal struck many contractors as unrealistic, at least for major components of the system. Some specialists working on the project said the online system required such extensive repairs that it might not operate smoothly until after the Dec. 15 deadline for people to sign up for coverage starting in January, although that view is not universally shared.

In interviews, experts said the technological problems of the site went far beyond the roadblocks to creating accounts that continue to prevent legions of users from even registering. Indeed, several said, the login problems, though vexing to consumers, may be the easiest to solve. One specialist said that as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the Web site runs properly.

“The account creation and registration problems are masking the problems that will happen later,” said one person involved in the repair effort.

But it’s not all in contractors’ hands. The Obama administration may be leaning more on U.S. technology chief Todd Y. Park to fix bugs and guide improvements, Bloomberg News reported.

The Washington Post’s Amy Goldstein notes that while the administration has made a slight shift in its strategy by publicly addressing the difficulties, White House officials are not sharing much in the way of specifics about the glitches or what is being done to solve them:

They will not say how many experts — whom they describe as “the best and the brightest” — are on the team, when the team began its work or how soon the site’s flaws might be corrected. Still, in talking about the repairs, administration officials for the first time conceded that the site’s problems extend beyond well-publicized front-end obstacles, such as with setting up a personal account.

Since the exchange opened, officials at the White House and HHS had until now insisted that the site’s problems were caused primarily by its popularity — that more people were trying to get on than could be accommodated at once. Even Sunday, the HHS spokesman said the “main driver of the problems is volume.”

Yet insurance companies, consumers and health policy experts have noticed problems that occur further along in the process of using the exchange. The Web site sometimes gives inaccurate information about the federal tax credits that will help most people pay for a health plan, they say. And it sometimes erroneously tells low-income people that they are not eligible for Medicaid.

The longer these problems persist, the more difficult it will be for the administration to sell the law to the American people, and the already intense Republican opposition to the policy will only grow stronger.

Given the developments of the past few weeks, some Republicans have called on the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, to step down.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., would not go that far Sunday. He urged Sebelius to testify before Congress. Sebelius declined a request to appear at a House hearing on Thursday, citing a scheduling conflict.

“Her refusal to testify and be transparent about I think is undermining her credibility,” Rubio said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “And there may come a point now, perhaps we’re not there today, but there may come a point where, in fact, she will have to resign largely because she no longer has the credibility to do the job.”

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Sunday that there is no question Sebelius will eventually appear before lawmakers. “Listen, ultimately, Secretary Sebelius will testify before Congress, you know that,” the Democrat said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Rubio also suggested the problems the administration was having with the online marketplace could portend more significant issues down the road.

“In [the] 21st century, setting up a Web site where people can go on and buy something is not that complicated,” he said. “People do this every day. The inability of the federal government to set up a Web site where people can go on and buy something like health insurance does not bode well for the much more complicated elements of this law that are yet to be rolled out.”

Democrats who supported passage of the health care law now find themselves in a tough spot when it comes to the technical issues.

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

For an overview of the health care exchange website’s issues, Ray Suarez spoke Friday with reporters Sarah Kliff of The Washington Post and Louise Radnofsky of The Wall Street Journal. Watch the segment here or below:

LOSING LEGENDS

Former Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley died Friday, leaving behind the legacy of his 30-year career in the majority party in Congress and his wish to maintain integrity in the House.

“There had been a tendency of some Republicans to try to use denigration of the institution of the House of Representatives as a means of achieving power. I think, as a political device, of kind of bringing the House in disrepute in order to effect a change in the majority, there’s been a policy on some quarters of doing that,” he had told NewsHour’s Margaret Warner after the 1994 mid-term election in which he lost his seat. “I hope that comes to an end.”

“This is the people’s body, the House of Representatives, and I think the overwhelming number of members who serve here, Democrats and Republicans, try very hard under a very serious opportunity and honor to represent the people that send them there, and I think the institution may, I hope, improve in public confidence in the future,” he added.

Watch our obituary below or here:

A few hours later, a spokesman announced that Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, R-Fla., had died at Walter Reed Hospital after battling an injury. He was 82.

We’ve collected some of the tributes to him in the tweet section below. And the Tampa Bay Times published the full statements from a number of leaders after Young’s passing.

LINE ITEMS

  • Republican hopefuls state Sen. Neil Riser and businessman Vance McAllister advanced to a Nov. 16 runoff in a special election Saturday to fill the open seat in Louisiana’s 5th district.

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s GOP primary challenger, Matt Bevin, got a boost from the Senate Conservatives Fund.

  • Oregon’s constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman but will now recognize gay marriages performed in other states. Advocates in the state are collecting signatures for a ballot initiative in 2014 that would amend the constitutional amendment to allow same-sex couples to marry.

  • And Senator-elect Cory Booker officiated wedding ceremonies for seven same-sex couples Monday morning in New Jersey. A judge had struck down New Jersey’s law that allowed for civil unions but not gay marriages. The situation still will be tested before the state Supreme Court.

  • The Associated Press suspended veteran political reporter Bob Lewis after he made a mistake in a story about the Virginia gubernatorial contest.

  • ?Former Vice President Dick Cheney told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta that his doctor disabled a wireless feature on his implanted heart defibrillator out of fear of an assassination attempt. And Cheney admitted that because of his ongoing health struggles, he had written a resignation letter in 2001 and kept it secret, only for use should he have become incapacitated.

  • South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford’s Argentine lover spoke about their relationship.

  • BuzzFeed reports that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg will keep up his immigration advocacy next month at an event dubbed as a “dreamer” hackathon, “to advise undocumented youth on tech tools and projects to advance the prospect of reform, at LinkedIn’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.”

  • Dianne Reidy, the House stenographer who shouted about free masons during the vote to reopen the government, said in a statement, “For the past 2 and 1/2 weeks, the Holy Spirit has been waking me up in the middle of the night and preparing me (through my reluctance and doubt) to deliver a message in the House Chamber.”

  • A documentary on the 2012 GOP caucuses in Iowa is premiering next week in Iowa. Watch the trailer here.

  • Tours will resume at the White House this November. They were cancelled in March because of the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. NewsHour’s Foreign Affairs Desk Assistant Aileen Graef has more.

  • Huffington Post commissioned a report on Netflix activity, and found that Washington, D.C., saw a spike in weekday traffic “that suggests furloughed government workers passed the time binging on Netflix shows.”

  • Former president George H.W. Bush donated his flashy cactus socks to charity.

  • NewsHour Political Editor Christina Bellantoni was on MSNBC’s “Up with Steve” Saturday. On the show, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., called Republicans “domestic enemies” and suggested his party has a good chance at winning back the House. And when Christina asked former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder about negative advertising in the gubernatorial contest, the Democrat acknowledged, “It worked in many instances, and it’s working here.” They also talked about Sen. Ted Cruz, the economic impact of the shutdown, Cory Booker’s victory and girl power on Capitol Hill and female candidates. (Though Christina goofed and forgot about Mary Sue Terry in Virginia.)

  • NewsHour alum Steve Goldbloom debuted a trailer for his new PBS Digital Studios series “Everything But the News” as the emcee for the ONA Online Journalism Awards in Atlanta this weekend. Hari Sreenivasan hams it up at Steve’s side in the clip, which you can watch here or below.

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

  • Watch this week’s analysis with Mark Shields and David Brooks here or below.

  • Paul Solman reports on how much money gamblers lost on Mitt Romney in the presidential prediction markets.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

TOP TWEETS

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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