* Republicans using glitches as ammunition to bash plan
* Agency says progress being made, work going round the
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON, Oct 10 The U.S. administration has a
little over a month to fix the technology problems crippling its
online health insurance marketplace, or jeopardize the goal of
signing up millions of Americans in time for benefits under
President Barack Obama's healthcare law, experts said on
Problems with the federal marketplace's entry portal serving
36 states, the website Healthcare.gov, continued for a 10th day
on Thursday despite signs of gradual improvement, keeping a
brake on the ability of consumers to shop for federally
subsidized health coverage.
Poor turnout in enrollment would provide further ammunition
for Republican foes of Obamacare, whose efforts to kill the law
have culminated in a federal government shutdown that began on
Oct. 1, coinciding with the launch of the health insurance
Already on Thursday, Republican lawmakers in Congress
launched a new investigation into the technical glitches,
sending letters to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary
Kathleen Sebelius and two of the website's contractors, asking
for details on what is causing the failures and any system
changes or testing that had been performed.
Up to 7 million Americans are expected to enroll in health
plans for 2014 under the law, formally known as the Patient
Protection and Affordable Care Act. Insurance executives, policy
experts and former administration officials said the federal
government's technical problems need to be largely sorted out by
That would help ensure that large numbers of enrollees -
especially healthy young adults needed to make the program work
financially - can be processed by a Dec. 15 deadline for Jan. 1
"Mid-November would be a time where folks who are getting
online or accessing in other ways should really see things move
pretty efficiently," Dan Hilferty, chief executive of
Philadelphia-based Independence Blue Cross, said in an
interview. "As we get closer to Jan. 1, if in fact some of these
glitches are not fixed, then I think people will become more and
more concerned, and maybe panic about it."
"We have a strong team in place, including external
contractors, who are working around the clock to improve
Healthcare.gov. We have a plan in place and are making progress,
but we will not stop until the doors to Healthcare.gov are wide
open," HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said in a statement on
Healthcare.gov is the entry site for consumers in states
that have chosen not to build their own healthcare exchanges.
The website was hobbled within minutes of its launch on Oct. 1.
HHS attributed the crash to an unexpected surge of millions of
interested consumers seeking information on the new benefits,
and said it was working to address capacity and software
problems to quickly fix the problem.
"There have been a lot of server issues, so I haven't been
able to get through," said Ira Barth, 24, a part-time classical
music singer in Dover, New Jersey, whose exchange relies on the
government site. "Right now for me it's actually cheaper to
visit the doctor without having insurance. I want to see how
affordable it is right now."
Sebelius told a gathering in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on
Thursday that 13 million people have tried to visit
Healthcare.gov so far this month in what she called "a sign of
Joe Bourgart, 55, of Murrysville, Pennsylvania, attended the
event that was co-hosted by the Pittsburgh Steelers football
team, where he was able to register on Healthcare.gov for the
"You have to do something about this," Bourgart said to
Sebelius as she walked by, referring to the website problems. "I
promise I will," she responded.
Bourgart, who identified himself as a Republican and a
supporter of universal healthcare for Americans, said "whether
this is the right way to do it, I can't say. But I do think you
have to try things before you can say if they work or not."
"I feel like unfortunately the whole government shutdown
issue has put this issue to the sidelines while everyone is
focused on the mess in Washington," he added. "I am very
disappointed in my party at the moment."
INVESTIGATING THE GLITCHES
The House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee,
in its letters to Sebelius and contractors CGI and Quality
Software Services Inc, questioned the nature of the glitches
against testimony from federal officials and company
representatives ahead of Healthcare.gov's launch on Oct. 1.
"Despite the widespread belief that the administration was
not ready for the health law's Oct. 1 launch, top officials and
lead IT contractors looked us in the eye and assured us all
systems were a go," said committee chairman Fred Upton, a
Republican from Michigan. "The American people deserve to know
what caused this mess."
CGI said it would cooperate with the committee's request.
Officials at QSSI were not immediately available for comment.
Patience has also begun to run thin among Democrats who
worry that the administration is not acting decisively enough.
"They don't seem to be addressing these problems quickly
enough. They've had three years to get their ducks in a row. It
gets to the point where it becomes inexcusable. And we're not at
that point yet. But we're getting close to it," said a senior
Democratic aide in Congress.
"With the amount of support the president and the White
House have from Silicon Valley, you would think they'd be able
to nip these problems in the bud. They could call up any of
these people and ask for their assistance. Why not put together
a blue ribbon panel with all the guys from Google and
Twitter? This should have been done beforehand."
Democratic Senator Edward Markey said Obamacare came up very
briefly at a White House meeting between the president and
Democratic Senators on Thursday.
"They need a geek squad, not a firing squad," Markey told
reporters about the administration's IT challenges.