Officials hedge over website deadline

Thinkstock

Administration officials were noncommittal Wednesday when asked by Republican lawmakers whether HealthCare.gov would be functional by its deadline at the end of the month.

Witnesses before the House Oversight Committee repeated that their goal is to ensure ObamaCare’s enrollment site works for most users by Nov. 30. Their implicit suggestion — that the system would not be glitch-free — came with further attempts to lower expectations.

ADVERTISEMENT
“The team is working hard right now,” said U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park when asked if the deadline would be met. “The goal that has been laid out is not for the site to be perfect.” 

The remarks came amid reports that HealthCare.gov is proving too error-ridden to repair in the next three weeks and that the administration is seeking alternative ways to enroll millions of people in private health coverage.

White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri pushed back on Wednesday, saying that the administration stands by its vow that the repair effort would be essentially complete by Nov. 30.

Park, who testified under a subpoena from Issa, spoke at the hearing just hours before federal health officials were expected to release initial enrollment numbers for the exchanges.

Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) tangled repeatedly with administration witnesses and Democratic colleagues, who charged that the hearing was a “kangaroo court” designed to embarrass the administration.

The panel’s internal tensions were laid bare several times, as its top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), accused Issa of insulting committee staff, and Issa charged Democrats with seeking to “rehabilitate” poor testimony from witnesses.

Tempers also flared over the division of time between Republican and Democratic lawmakers. In response to criticism that he favored the GOP with additional minutes, Issa angrily denied that he was running a “partisan hearing.”

“No witness has been cut off,” he said. “I will not have this be accused of being a partisan hearing. We’re trying to get an understanding of why [the enrollment site] didn’t work.”

Issa’s general approach to oversight has been called highly political by his critics. Supporters say his methods and tone are necessary to compel vital details from a highly guarded Obama administration.

Wednesday’s hearing capped several weeks of document releases by Issa that sought to portray the chaos surrounding the rollout of HealthCare.gov.

The documents, often heavily redacted or incomplete, were dismissed by committee Democrats for purportedly “cherry-picking” evidence that showed the administration and its officials in a bad light.

“This is a hearing on a broken website by a broken committee,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), a Blue Dog Democrat and member of the panel.

“The air is thick with innuendo. When the chairman discusses rehabilitating witnesses, he suggests that there are witnesses that need to be rehabilitated,” he added.

Cooper went on to suggest that Issa had “abused” witnesses with leaks.

This story was originally posted at 4:52 p.m. and updated at 8:37 p.m.

More in Healthcare

Health officials turn over 19,000 ObamaCare documents

Read more »