WASHINGTON - On the defensive, the Obama administration acknowledged Wednesday its problem-plagued health insurance website didn't get enough testing before going live. It said technicians were deep into the job of fixing major computer snags but provided no timetable.
Democrat unhappiness with the situation began growing louder - including one call for President Barack Obama to "man up" and fire someone - as the president's allies began to fret about the political fallout. Democrats hoped to run for re-election touting the benefits of the health care law for millions of uninsured Americans, but the computer problems are keeping many people from signing up.
On the Republican side of the issue, House Speaker John Boehner declared, "We've got the whole threat of Obamacare continuing to hang over our economy like a wet blanket."
Chief executive officers of major insurance companies arrive at the White House on Wednesday to meet with White House officials regarding President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Obama himself, though strongly defending his unpopular health care overhaul, has been increasingly willing to acknowledge extensive problems with the sign-up through online markets. Amid all that, the Health and Human Services Department on Wednesday provided its most specific accounting yet of the troubles with HealthCare.gov - an issue that is also about to get a lengthy, even-less-forgiving airing on Capitol Hill.
The first of several hearings is set for today in the Republican-led House, with lawmakers ready question the contractors who built the balky online enrollment system.
Acknowledging what's been obvious to many outside experts, the administration said Wednesday that the system didn't get enough testing. It blamed a compressed timeframe for meeting the Oct. 1 deadline to open the insurance markets. Basic "alpha and user testing" are now completed, but that's supposed to happen before a launch, not after.
The Health and Human Services explanation identified some bugs that have gotten little outside attention.
For example, technical problems have surfaced that are making it hard for people to complete the application and plan-shopping functions. That's a big concern because those stages are further along in the signup process than the initial registration, where many consumers have been getting tripped up.
The explanation, posted online in a department blog and accompanying graphic, identified other broad areas of problems and outlined fixes under way but in most cases incomplete:
- Heavy traffic from consumers wanting to meet the mandate and avoid being fined that overwhelmed the system in its initial days. Equipment has been added to handle the load and system design has been improved. More fixes are in progress.
- Lack of a way for consumers to browse their health plan options without first having to set up a user account. A partial fix is in place.
- Incorrect or duplicate information in enrollments is being delivered to insurance companies. Some software fixes that should help address the issue have been completed, others are underway.
- Difficulties for consumers trying to create user accounts, including drop-down menus that didn't work. Design changes and software fixes should address the situation.
Today, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will line up contractors, including CGI Federal, the lead developer of the website, and QSSI, which designed a back-room operation known as the federal data services hub.
Meanwhile, House Democrats are starting to worry aloud about persistent problems with the rollout.
Rep. Richard Nolan of Minnesota emerged from a Wednesday morning meeting with administration health care officials on Capitol Hill and said the computer fiasco has "damaged the brand" of the health care law.
"The president needs to man up, find out who was responsible, and fire them," Nolan said.