O-Care official: Back-end still not finished

An official involved in ObamaCare's rollout told lawmakers Thursday that the payment system at HealthCare.gov remains incomplete, even as users are reporting better experiences on the site.

Gary Cohen, the director of Medicare's Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, revealed that a system to directly transfer federal subsidies to insurance companies is still being built.

The remarks came more than three months after the launch of HealthCare.gov, which had enrolled more than one million people in private plans as of Dec. 31.

Cohen testified before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight, where members pressed him to estimate when the back-end payment system would be finished.

While Cohen did not give a timetable for the project, he said that a stopgap system would pay insurers next week based on calculations of what they are owed.

The back-office functions of HealthCare.gov remain a thorn in the side of federal health officials as they seek to boost enrollment before the period ends March 31.

In its "tech surge" effort, the Obama administration focused on fixing the consumer-facing side of HealthCare.gov and stemming the tide of criticism that engulfed the White House last fall.

This choice was seen as pulling attention from parts of the system where technical problems were serious but less obvious. A colleague of Cohen's, Henry Chao, told lawmakers in November that 30 percent of HealthCare.gov was still under construction.

Tempers occasionally ran high in Thursday's hearing as Republican lawmakers aired their concerns about the website. Two members — Reps. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) — told Cohen point-blank that he should be fired.