White House Opened Obamacare Exchanges Despite Flaw Warnings

Tuesday, 08 Oct 2013 11:20 PM

By Todd Beamon

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The White House received steady warnings in recent months that the Obamacare exchanges were greatly flawed, but proceeded with launching them anyway last week, those familiar with the conversations said on Tuesday.

"People were pulling out their hair," Robert Laszewski, a healthcare consultant whose clients include insurers, told The Washington Post.

He said insurance companies were complaining bitterly that the main Obamacare site, Healthcare.gov, was not performing well when they held teleconferences with officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The complaints came both before and after the Oct. 1 launch of the website, Laszewski told the Post.

The strong warnings also came from state healthcare officials and many Democratic allies of President Barack Obama, the Post reported.

"Nothing I told them ever surprised them," Democratic Rep. Robert Andrews of New Jersey told the Post. In the summer, he told the White House of complaints about the site from insurance companies. "The White House has acknowledged all along something this massive was going to have implementation problems."

Meanwhile, Capitol Hill Republicans have long complained about Obamacare and sought to either defund it or delay the implementation of its mandate for individual Americans in legislation to temporarily finance the federal government.

The stalemate with Senate Democrats over the bill has led to a partial shutdown of the government, in its eighth day Tuesday.

In fact, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday demanding that she provide exact numbers on how many Americans have bought insurance through the new exchanges, the Post reports.

Technical glitches and other issues led HHS to shut down Healthcare.gov, which covers 36 states, over the weekend for extensive repairs.

The construction and operation of Healthcare.gov was directed by the department's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — with most of the work being done by contractors, the Post reports.

Sebelius said Tuesday that the upgrades had made Healthcare.gov "simple and user-friendly and the coverage is affordable."

"This is a question of volume and demand exceeding anything that people anticipated,” White House strategist David Simas told the Post. “I am confident people are working through these issues. It is steady improvement."

But John Engates, chief technology officer of RackSpace, a Texas-based provider of computing services, told the Post that HHS officials should have anticipated the heavy traffic volume and made the necessary preparations.

"I think that any modern Web company would be well prepared for a launch of this scale," Engates said. "We’re not talking about hundreds of millions of people, and we’re not talking about complex transactions. This isn’t downloading full movies off of Netflix.

"The question I have is: did they have enough time to prepare, and did the people doing the work know what they were doing?”

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