WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Monday that technology experts have been working around the clock to fix the federal website launched on Oct. 1 that allows people to buy health insurance, but he defended the law as “more than a website.”
Speaking at the White House, the president said there was no excuse for the technical problems that have plagued the website, healthcare.gov, since its rollout.
Obama said 20 million people had visited the website, but he offered no details on why the problems have continued for three weeks or how long it might take to fix them. He did give some hint of the magnitude of the problem when he outlined the steps now being taken.
“We've got people working overtime, 24/7, to boost capacity and address the problems,” the president said.
“Experts from some of America's top private-sector tech companies who, by the way, have seen things like this happen before, they want it to work. They're reaching out. They're offering to send help.”
Obama faces criticism
The computer problems are affecting people in Oklahoma and 35 other states that didn't set up their own exchanges to handle individuals and small businesses seeking to purchase health care policies.
The administration has not disclosed how many people in each state have enrolled or tried unsuccessfully to enroll. The enrollment deadline for avoiding a penalty is March 31, though people must be enrolled by Dec. 15 to have insurance benefits kick in by Jan. 1.
Obama spent much of his Rose Garden speech defending the law, saying, “The point is, the essence of the law — the health insurance that's available to people — is working just fine. In some cases, actually, it's exceeding expectations. The prices are lower than we expected, the choice is greater than we expected.”
And he said people having trouble with the website can call (800) 318-2596 to enroll by phone, or download an application to fill out and mail.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the president offered excuses rather than explanations.
“The president is right about one thing: His health care law is more than a website. It is Americans across the country receiving policy cancellation notices in the mail. It is higher premiums for middle class families. It is American workers losing hours, pushed into part-time jobs. And it is small businesses afraid to hire new employees. The law — inside and out — is a train wreck that needs to be stopped.”
Boehner and other lawmakers criticized Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for not testifying before a House committee this week, though she is expected to testify on Oct. 30.
Issues with the healthcare.gov website began on the same day much of the government was shut down in a partisan fight over the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The focus on the shutdown largely overshadowed the technical problems.