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October 24, 2013

Tech Executives Blame US Officials for Insurance Site Problems

by VOA News

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says officials are working around the clock to make the government's health insurance website better.

Speaking Thursday at a call center in Phoenix that is to help people enroll for coverage, Sebelius said nobody has been fired for technical glitches. She said a lot of the problems were caused by a surge in demand.

Earlier, technology contractors blamed health care officials in the Obama administration for the website problems that have left millions of uninsured Americans staring at computers showing error messages.  

At a congressional hearing, contractor Andrew Slavitt of QSSI said his company shared its concerns with government officials about the website before its October 1 opening.   He it was particularly troublesome that government officials made late decisions about how people could browse for health care policies.

A spokeswoman for the government agency in charge of the website's design (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) told reporters, “The system just was not tested enough, especially for high volumes.”

The spokeswoman said about 700,000 applications have been submitted through new exchanges created by the new health care program called the Affordable Care Act.

The hearing Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee was highly politicized.  Republicans opposed to the law, popularly known as Obamacare, called its launch a disaster.

The panel's chairman, Michigan Congressman Fred Upton, accused government officials of withholding information about the website's failures.

"We still do not know the real picture. The administration appears allergic to transparency and continues to withhold enrollment figures," said Upton.

Democrats on the House committee said many people are successfully buying insurance, but they, too, complained about the website problems.

Seven Senate Democrats said they want the White House to postpone parts of the law while contractors and the government work out the kinks.
In a radio interview (KNPR), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said, "... the administration should have known how difficult it was going to be to have 35 million or 40 million people to suddenly hook up to a place to go on the Internet."

President Barack Obama has called in key private and government technology experts to try to fix the health insurance portal.

Sebelius is to testify to Congress next week about the website failures and efforts to correct them.

Under the new law, people without private health insurance can sign up for government subsidized insurance.  Those who choose not to buy any insurance will have to pay a fine.