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Obamacare website on life support

WASHINGTON — Even President Obama has finally acknowledged that the Obamacare rollout is a disaster, although one would almost have to read between the lines to find that admission.

Obama held a pep rally of sorts in the Rose Garden Monday morning in which he initially downplayed the situation by acknowledging just “some problems with the website.”

He also insisted the Obamcare website is “still working for a lot of people.”

‘The mess they’ve made’

But Consumer Reports apparently disagrees, claiming it’s not worth the effort to even try using the website, for the time being.

“We tried it several times today and never succeeded in getting through,” the magazine reported.

Consumer Reports has tested the Obamacare enrollment website for the three weeks it has been up since Oct. 1 and now advises customers to wait “at least month if you can” before trying it themselves.

“Hopefully that will be long enough for its software vendors to clean up the mess they’ve made,” the magazine stated.

‘No excuse’

After initially trying to minimize the problems that even supporters acknowledge have plagued the website since it launched, the president painted a more serious picture, acknowledging there was “no excuse” for the barely functioning portal.

He admitted there was “no sugarcoating” problems that were “unacceptable,” including the now-legendary slowness of the process to enroll for Obamacare online.

Obama even claimed, “Nobody’s more frustrated than I am,” and, “No one’s madder than me,” because the website is “not working as it should.”

He promised improvement and tacitly admitted a crisis with the website, saying a “surge” of technicians had been deployed to fix its numerous deficiencies.

The website that critics call both the worst and the most expensive in history cost taxpayers a reported $634,320,919 to build.

There’s no word yet on what Obama’s surge to fix the website might cost, but the New York Times reports it may take two months.

“These are not glitches,” an insurance executive who has participated in many conference calls on the federal exchange told the paper. The Times said the executive spoke on the condition of anonymity, not wishing to alienate the federal officials with whom he works.

“The extent of the problems is pretty enormous. At the end of our calls, people say, ‘It’s awful, just awful.’”

Those fears appear to have come true, with insurance companies reporting the system is sending them incomplete and garbled applications, with either inaccurate or unusuable information.

Fatal flaw?

However, Obamacare may be facing an even more dire dilemma than the website disaster.

If the government doesn’t get enough people to sign up, experts say it will never work, because there simply will not be enough enrollees to pay for government-subsidized health insurance.

After much prodding, the White House finally released numbers over the weekend showing approximately 19 million people have visited the website and 476,000 individuals have applied online for health insurance.

But, perhaps tellingly, the administration has refused to disclose how many people have actually bought policies.

According to the Times, “Even some supporters of the Affordable Care Act worry that the flaws in the system, if not quickly fixed, could threaten the fiscal health of the insurance initiative, which depends on throngs of customers to spread the risk and keep prices low.”

The administration wants 7 million people to enroll during the six-month sign-up period.

The Associated Press obtained an internal Health and Human Services Department memo listing the administration’s monthly enrollment targets, including 500,000 in October and 3.3 million by the end of the year.

HHS declined to tell AP if it was meeting it’s projections. The agency even issued a statement claiming the administration “has not set monthly enrollment targets,” despite the fact AP already had the numbers.

The ‘surge’

But to even have a chance to meet any sign-up goals, the public must be able to use the website, which may be why the administration suddenly has launched an all-out offensive.

The president said the “surge” ground troops are computer technicians, experts from the “top private” tech companies who were working “24/7.”

He did not explain why “private” experts were preferable when it comes to fixing a public debacle.

But they have their work cut out for them.

The New York Times cited a specialist who said that as many as 5 million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the website will run properly.

The administration called them “the best and the brightest” tech experts in a 600-word blog post the Department of Health and Human Services posted Sunday night.

It presents this candid admission:

Unfortunately, the experience on HealthCare.gov has been frustrating for many Americans. 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 of HealthCare.gov has not lived up to the expectations of the American people. We are committed to doing better.

Computers get ‘stress’?

What caused the problems? Stress, apparently.

“The initial wave of interest stressed the account service, resulting in many consumers experiencing trouble signing up, while those that were able to sign up sometimes had problems logging in,” HHS wrote.

Sometimes a fix proved to be a problem, too.

“Initially, we implemented a virtual ‘waiting room,’ but many found this experience to be confusing,” HHS explained.

The post pats itself on the back, saying the agency is “proud of these quick improvements” then describes how the surge has been deployed to clear up any remaining problems.

However, judging by the comments section below the post, the surge still has a long way to go.

The top five most recent comments posted at 1:45 p.m. Eastern Time Monday did not bode well for the website:

Submitted by Barbara on Mon, 2013-10-21 13:36

I live in Florida and want information on coverage and cost within the federally mandated exchange. So far, I have yet to be able to get the information I need. Online, I get all the way through the security questions just to be told the system cannot process me any further. I am a W-2 contract employee who has to pay full group rate through my agency. I just want to shop the marketplace to compare coverage and premiums. I would really like to know how much QA was done on this website. I would be fired from my job had I released such a flawed program.

Submitted by Anand on Mon, 2013-10-21 13:36

Glitches aren’t anticipated but happened anyway. This should have been planned well ahead but not done. I am an IT engineer. I went through a similar situation before, so I know about this. Of course, there was poor planning for the sign-up process that created a huge burden. I can see how verifying data in every step rather collecting all data and than sending for verification in the database will eliminate a huge burden from server process. I apologize to the tech team. I have absolutely no doubt about your expertise, but I spent a huge amount of time on this sign-up process, so I am expressing my unhappiness.

Submitted by Jay on Mon, 2013-10-21 13:36

According to the local news broadcast here in New Mexico, as of 10/20/13, NOT ONE individual has been able to sign up. Not one! Businesses have been successful because that part of the exchange is being run by the state. But the individual/family section is being handled by the feds for now. I have been trying since Oct. 1, several times a day and night. I was able to create an account but cannot log in. Whenever I do, I get a page that says: ERROR – Wed page cannot be found. So much fun.

Submitted by John on Mon, 2013-10-21 13:30

The Executive Branch’s responsibilities now include rationalizing website failures. Just another day in the life of the behemoth boondoggle that ate America. Abomination is the new normal.

Submitted by Tyler on Mon, 2013-10-21 13:29

I was finally able to create an account and received an eligibility notice (I was approved). However, I do not have access and cannot find the marketplace. When I click on “Get Insurance,” it logs me out and takes me to the home page. The call center representative could only tell me that there are issues with the site but didn’t seem that knowledgeable about what I was experiencing. I want this to work, and I hope the solution to this problem is worked out.

A Third-World experience

Henry Chao is the HHS official in charge of technology for the Affordable Care Act.

The Wall Street Journal reported Chao told an insurance lobby conference in March that his team had given up trying to create “a world-class user experience.”

Instead, his main goal was to “just make sure it’s not a Third-World experience.”

‘The Daily Show’ but not Congress

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has finally relented after refusing to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a hearing on the website problems.

She has now agreed to appear before the committee on Wednesday.

GOP lawmakers were infuriated she went on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” but had decided not to appear before Congress.

HHS was even refusing to make lower-level officials available.

“As the news continues to get worse, it’s time for Secretary Sebelius to provide answers to Congress,” the committee had said in a statement.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R.-Fla., said that “in the 21st century, setting up a website where people can go on and buy something is not that complicated.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called for Sebelius to resign, saying “the program she has implemented, Obamacare, is a disaster, it’s not working, it’s hurting people all across this country.”

Sebelius made clear in a Wall Street Journal profile Saturday that she had no plans to resign, but some Democrats appear to be getting nervous.

“What has happened is unacceptable,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “There is much that needs to be done to correct the situation.”

Scam-artists’ dream

In the meanwhile, the president suggested people try other ways to try to sign up for Obamacare.

He suggested signing up in person using one of Obamacare’s “navigators,” or assistants. He also recommended signing up over the phone.

Using a navigator might be the riskier course, as WND has reported. The California insurance commissioner has warned that poor screening of those helping people sign up for Obamacare could lead to identity theft and fraud.

And CNBC has called Obamacare “a dream come true for rip-off artists” who try to pass themselves off as Obamacare “navigators” who can help Americans apply for coverage through an exchange, then ask for money or personal information.

As for signing up on the phone, Obama gave the number twice (800 318-2396) and claimed the average application time is 25 minutes for an individual and 45 minutes for a family.

Please hold until January

However, a WND investigation revealed numerous hurdles, ranging from unknown cost estimates and repeated questioning to long waits and even a disconnected telephone call.

It turns out, the government requires anyone seeking a cost estimate to first fill out on entire application.

After an hour of answering questions, WND was informed the application would be processed and the applicant should get a reply by Jan. 1, 2014.

Some of the same questions were asked repeatedly.

“Are you an American Indian?” was asked three separate times.

The federal health-care exchange employee was earnest and friendly, but did ask for help spelling “Pennsylvania.”

Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth