Obamacare Marketplace Overseer Tells Congress Website 'Has Not Lived Up to Expectations'

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration official responsible for overseeing the development of the health insurance marketplace under the newly implemented healthcare reform law offered a public apology Tuesday for the structure’s multiple failings but insisted the system will ultimately have a positive impact on consumers.

“Unfortunately, the experience on HealthCare.gov has been frustrating for many Americans,” Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told members of the House Ways and Means Committee. “Some have had trouble creating accounts and logging in to the site while others have received confusing error messages or had to wait for slow page loads or forms that failed to respond in a timely fashion.”

The initial consumer experience “has not lived up to the expectations of the American people and is not acceptable,” Tavenner said. “We are committed to fixing these problems as soon as possible.”

Those fixes should arrive by the end of November, she said. To this point, the system has received about 700,000 health insurance applications – half utilizing the marketplace and the remainder coming from the 14 states that opted to run their own enlistment operations. It will be several more weeks, Tavenner said, before her office is able to determine how many people actually obtained insurance, noting, however, that “we expect the initial number to be small.”

Republicans, as well as some Democrats, are recommending a one-year delay in implementation of tax penalties for those who fail to obtain health insurance by the deadline. The White House thus far remains opposed to that move.

HealthCare.gov was developed as part of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, to provide residents of 36 states an opportunity to contrast and compare various health insurance options and select the one that best fits their needs. Under the $1.4 trillion healthcare reform initiative, everyone must hold insurance by March 31.

Tavenner, who has found herself under fire as a result of the rocky opening, represents the first administration official to appear before Congress to discuss the system’s ongoing problems. She maintained that the website intended to provide access to the marketplace is “fixable.” The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has contracted with Quality Software Services Inc. to serve as general manager of the effort to fix the website. And last week President Obama chose Jeffrey Zients, his soon-to-be chief economic adviser, to provide recommendations on how to fix the issues before assuming his other responsibilities.

“The Affordable Care Act has already provided new benefits and protections to Americans with health insurance, and we are committed to improving the experience for consumers using HealthCare.gov so that Americans can easily access the quality, affordable health coverage they need,” Tavenner said. “By enlisting additional technical help, aggressively monitoring errors, testing to prevent new issues from cropping up and regularly deploying fixes to the site, we are working to ensure consumers’ interaction with HealthCare.gov is a positive one and that the Affordable Care Act fully delivers on its promise.”

Tavenner attributed the problems to private contractors who “have not met expectations.” The initial wave of consumer interest “stressed the account service, resulting in many consumers experiencing difficulty signing up, while those who were able to sign up sometimes had problems logging in.”