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Life Health > Health Insurance > Health Insurance

Obama: 'No excuses' for woes

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said today that there is “no excuse” for the problems at the exchange enrollment system.

But Obama said he is confident that the administration can fix the problems.

“There’s no sugarcoating it,” Obama said. “Nobody is more frustrated than I am.”

The president said his administration is doing “everything we can possibly do” to get the enrollment sites for the federally run Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) public exchanges running.

The administration is bringing in additional technology experts from inside and outside the government to work on the issues, Obama said.

Obama and other administration officials did not talk in detail about what the problems with the seem to be, how the problems may have occurred, why the problems were not fixed before the exchanges opened to the public Oct. 1, or what backup plans might be available.

Originally, the Congressional Budget Office projected that 7 million people could sign up for coverage through all state-run and federally run exchanges by the end of 2014.

The White House says about 500,000 people have now applied for exchange plans through federal and state exchange websites.

See our infographic: PPACA premiums, state-by-state

Administration officials initially blamed a high volume of interest for the frozen computer screens that many people encountered when they first logged on to the website. Since then, they have also acknowledged generally that there may be other problems with software and with some elements of the system’s design.

Under current program rules, consumers have until Dec. 15 to sign up for coverage that would take effect Jan. 1.

To get 2014 coverage on a fully guaranteed-issue basis, without having to wait for a special enrollment period or another open enrollment period, consumers must sign up by March 31.

To get 2014 coverage in time to avoid having to pay the new PPACA penalty to be imposed on some individuals who fail to own a minimum amount of health coverage, consumers may have to enroll by mid-February, some experts say.

Officials say that at this point they are not considering extending the enrollment window beyond March 31. They also say they are not considering taking the website down for an extended period of time to address any problems but instead will make changes during low-traffic overnight hours.

The president on Monday guaranteed that all consumers who want to get insurance through the new health care exchanges will be able to, even if they have to enroll over the phone or fill out paper applications.

Obama’s event in the White House Rose Garden had the feeling of a health care pep rally, with guests in the Rose Garden applauding as Obama ticked through what the White House sees as benefits of PPACA. The president was introduced by a woman who had successfully managed to sign up for health insurance through the marketplaces in her home state of Delaware.

The rollout failures have been deeply embarrassing for the White House. The issues have called into question whether the administration is capable of implementing the complex policy and why senior White House officials — including the president — appear to have been unaware of the scope of the problems when the exchange sites opened Oct. 1.

The president did acknowledge that the failures would provide new fodder for opponents of the law, often referred to as “Obamacare.” With the website not working as intended, “that makes a lot of supporters nervous,” he said.

But he said, “it’s time for folks to stop rooting for its failure.”

At first, Republican efforts to delay or defund PPACA in exchange for reopening the government diverted attention from the problems.

With the shutdown over, GOP lawmakers have been attacking as well as PPACA.

“An overhauled website isn’t going to fix the underlying fact that Obamacare is not a workable law,” Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said. “I urge the president and my colleagues across the aisle to recognize the harm being done and set aside their pride to stop the most damaging provisions of the law, or better yet, to repeal and replace it.”

Allison Bell and Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.

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