Builders of Obama's $394 million health website saw red flags for months
The schematics from late 2012 show how officials designated a "data services hub" — a traffic cop for managing information — in lieu of a design that would have allowed state exchanges to connect directly to government servers when verifying an applicant's information. On Sunday, the Health and Human Services Department said the data hub was working but not meeting public expectations: "We are committed to doing better."
Administration officials so far have refused to say how many people actually have managed to enroll in insurance during the three weeks since the new marketplaces became available. Without enrollment numbers, it's impossible to know whether the program is on track to reach projections from the Congressional Budget Office that 7 million people would gain coverage during the first year the exchanges were available.
Instead, officials have selectively cited figures that put the insurance exchanges in a positive light. They say more than 19 million people have logged on to the federal website and nearly 500,000 have filled out applications for insurance through both the federal and state-run sites.
The flood of computer problems since the website went online has been deeply embarrassing for the White House. The snags have called into question whether the administration is capable of implementing the complex policy and why senior administration officials — including the president — appear to have been unaware of the scope of the problems when the exchange sites opened.
Even as the president spoke at the Rose Garden, more problems were coming to light. The administration acknowledged that a planned upgrade to the website had been postponed indefinitely and that online Spanish-language signups would remain unavailable, despite a promise to Hispanic groups that the capability would start this week. And the government tweaked the website's home page so visitors can now view phone numbers to apply the old-fashioned way or window-shop for insurance rates without registering first.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee was expected to conduct an oversight hearing Thursday, probably without Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifying. She could testify on Capitol Hill on the subject as early as next week.
Uninsured Americans have until about mid-February to sign up for coverage if they are to meet the law's requirement that they be insured by the end of March. If they don't, they will face a penalty. The administration says it's working to address the timing issue to provide more flexibility.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., plans to introduce legislation to delay that requirement because: "It's not fair to punish people for not buying something that's not available," Rubio told "CBS This Morning" on Tuesday.
On Monday, the White House advised people frustrated by the online tangle that they can enroll by calling 1-800-318-2596 in a process that should take 25 minutes for an individual or 45 minutes for a family. Assistance is also available in communities from helpers who can be found at LocalHelp.HealthCare.gov.
Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.
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