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Obama to address health care website glitches

By Kevin Bohn and Jim Acosta

CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama on Monday will talk about the website glitches that have plagued the application process for health care insurance since the new exchanges opened up this month.

In Rose Garden remarks about the Affordable Care Act, the president will reiterate his stance that he finds the technical problems unacceptable and will discuss steps his administration has taken to get them fixed, a White House official said Sunday.

Obama administration also officials highlighted over the weekend the fact that nearly 500,000 people have filled out applications for Obamacare.

The site has seen many problems with people trying to log on as well as issues once they have applied, such as some people applying for different plans. Insurance industry sources have said they are getting some applications with missing information.

Republicans on the Sunday talk shows aimed their fire at the site.

"It's been a fiasco. Send Air Force One to Silicon Valley. Load it up with smart people, bring it back to Washington and fix this problem. It's ridiculous, and everybody knows that," Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, told CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger on "State of the Union."

"They've had three or four years here to get this ready. God only knows how much money they've spent, and it's a failure. You know, the government simply isn't going to be able to get this job done correctly," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"Obamacare is a disaster. It's not working. It's hurting people all across the country," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash.

The administration says it is working to fix the problems.

"I think there is no one more frustrated than the President at the difficulty in the website," Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said on NBC's "Meet the Press." The Department of Health and Human Services "has got plans to fix this, and they have to fix this. It has to be done right."

The application portion of the website was brought down this weekend for overnight maintenance, as it has been on previous weekends and some weeknights. An administration official confirmed to CNN that additional government and private technology experts will be brought on to help solve the problems but did not provide any details.

In a blog post Sunday afternoon, the Health and Human Services department said: "To ensure that we make swift progress, and that the consumer experience continues to improve, our team has called in additional help to solve some of the more complex technical issues we are encountering. 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."

Two officials said staffing at call centers has been increased by about 50% to help people phoning in, and officials are emphasizing that now, as an alternative, one can enroll over the phone. About 1.2 million calls have been processed from those seeking information.

"The website is unacceptable, and we are improving it," one senior administration official told CNN. "But the underlying insurance product is good, and across the country, people are getting access to affordable care on January 1."

The administration is still not releasing the numbers on how many people have taken the next step of enrolling: choosing a specific health care plan. The administration has said it will do that only on a monthly basis, so the first tally of enrollment numbers will come in November.

The Congressional Budget Office has said it expects 7 million people to enroll by April 1.

Although the administration tally of applications did not break down how many of the applications came through state-run exchanges, a CNN survey this week of officials with those exchanges found that at least 257,000 people had signed up for new insurance plans as of Friday afternoon.

Not all of them had made a payment, and not every state responded to the CNN request.

Democrats say it is still early in the process, because the uninsured have until January before they need to sign up or face a penalty, and they point to a lot of interest despite the problems.

"Nineteen million unique visitors to the health care site, and I think that is very important," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. "How the technology is working is unacceptable, and they are working to correct that. But that doesn't change what the initiative is, which is affordable, quality health care accessible to many more people in our country, and I'm very excited about that."

CNN's Adam Aigner-Treworgy, Brian Todd and Dugald McConnell contributed to this story.

 

 

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