Pres­i­dent backs Se­be­lius de­spite Oba­macare glitches Some call for HHS sec­re­tary to re­sign

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVE BOYER AND TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Two weeks into the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s dis­as­trous launch of Oba­macare’s online mar­ket­places, the White House said Tues­day that Pres­i­dent Obama still supports be­lea­guered Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Kath­leen Se­be­lius in spite of calls for her res­ig­na­tion.

Com­plaints about the user-un­friend­li­ness of Health­ are pour­ing in from con­sumers, in­sur­ers, op­po­nents of the ad­min­is­tra­tion and even from pres­i­den­tial al­lies such as for­mer White House press sec­re­tary Robert Gibbs, who called the pro­gram’s roll­out “ex­cru­ci­at­ingly em­bar­rass­ing.”

Mrs. Se­be­lius would be a good bet in Wash­ing­ton of­fice pools for “next head to roll,” but the White House de­fended her man­age­ment of the pres­i­dent’s sig­na­ture en­ti­tle­ment pro­gram.

“The sec­re­tary does have the full con­fi­dence of the pres­i­dent,” said White House press sec­re­tary Jay Car­ney.

“She, like ev­ery­one else in this ef­fort, is fo­cused on our No. 1 pri­or­ity, which is mak­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Af­ford­able Care Act work well.”

But even Mr. Obama is pri­vately ex­press­ing un­hap­pi­ness with the prod­uct launch, with some Repub­li­can se­na­tors who met with him at the White House late last week de­scrib­ing the pres­i­dent as “an­gry” about Oba­macare’s nu­mer­ous glitches. Across the coun­try, peo­ple have re­ported an in­abil­ity to sign up on the web­sites for cov­er­age, even with spe­cially-trained aides to as­sist them.

As com­plaints about the web­site’s poor de­sign have risen, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has largely ditched its ini­tial ex­pla­na­tion that the pro­gram was suf­fer­ing from too much pop­u­lar­ity and high user de­mand. One reporter tried un­suc­cess­fully for more than 10 days to cre­ate an ac­count, even at low-de­mand times such as 3 a.m.

Mr. Car­ney hinted at Mr. Obama’s an­noy­ance when he said, “The pres­i­dent wants th­ese mat­ters ad­dressed be­cause he wants to make sure that Amer­i­cans across the coun­try have the best pos­si­ble con­sumer ex­pe­ri­ence as they look at their op­tions and the plans avail­able to them.” He added that, on the pres­i­dent’s or­ders, “peo­ple are work­ing 24/7 to re­solve the prob­lems that have arisen.”

Many Democrats are ex­press­ing relief that the gov­ern­ment shut­down saga, which co­in­cided with the start of the Oba­macare mar­ket­places, has shielded the ad­min­is­tra­tion from worse news cov­er­age about the pro­gram’s dread­ful start. A ques­tion about Oba­macare’s prob­lems at Tues­day’s White House press brief­ing was the first one from the White House press corps in more than a week.

Two Repub­li­can law­mak­ers, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Rep. John Flem­ing of Louisiana, have called on Mrs. Se­be­lius in the past week to re­sign. Mr. Flem­ing said Tues­day that she should step down be­cause her depart­ment had three years to pre­pare for the de­but of online insurance mar­kets, and he called the pro­gram “a ship in search of an ice­berg.”

“The rest of it is go­ing to get a lot worse,” Mr. Flem­ing told Fox News. “It’s ac­tu­ally go­ing to go down from here, not up. We may find Big­foot be­fore we ac­tu­ally find an en­rollee.”

The CEO of Aetna, Mark T. Ber­tolini, said his com­pany’s role as a tester for the sys­tem be­fore it launched gave him indi­ca­tions of the huge prob­lems that awaited con­sumers and in­sur­ers alike.

“There’s so much wrong, you just don’t know what’s bro­ken un­til you get a lot more of it fixed,” Mr. Ber­tolini said on CNBC. “We were pretty ner­vous as we got fur­ther along. As they started miss­ing dead­lines, we were pretty con­vinced it was go­ing to be a dif­fi­cult launch.”

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