By Sam Baker - 10/15/13 09:16 PM EDT
The White House stood by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday, as Republicans called for her resignation over the botched rollout of ObamaCare.
The primary website for consumers to sign up for insurance is still not functioning as promised, two weeks since its launch.
"The secretary does have the full confidence of the president," Carney said during his daily press briefing.
Republicans have said Sebelius should resign or be fired over the problems facing healthcare.gov — the portal for consumers in 36 states to shop for and buy insurance.
The site was unusable when it came online, and is still not fully functional two weeks later.
"If this were a company and not the government, she'd already be gone. She should be fired," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement Tuesday.
Carney conceded that there had been "challenges within the website," but said officials were working "24/7" to fix the portal.
Technical analysts have offered an array of possible explanations for healthcare.gov’s woes, but two things are clear: the site doesn’t work as intended; and the problems go deeper than simply being overwhelmed by traffic.
The administration has not said how many people have successfully enrolled in coverage through the federal website, and most observers are confident the number is low.
Hardly anyone could access the site in its first week online because of technical problems that prevented users from creating an account — the first step toward choosing a plan. Some users still remain unable to create accounts, and even those who can begin the process face long waits or other technical issues.
Some of those problems are improving, and congressional Democrats appear willing to give HHS more time to get the enrollment process on track.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Tuesday that he is “confident” the site’s problems will be fixed, because of his conversations with people inside and outside of government.
"Any major undertaking will have a few glitches,” Baucus said.
HHS has pulled the site down for maintenance multiple times, and those repairs have helped bring down wait times for the site. More people are able to get through, and the administration has pushed customers toward phone and paper applications as an alternative to the website.
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) — who is facing a tough reelection fight next year in which ObamaCare is already a major issue — also said he remains confident in HHS. He would not say whether anyone should lose their jobs because of ObamaCare’s rocky rollout.
“I’ll have to look at that. I know there have been some problems; I don’t know why,” Pryor said when asked whether anyone at HHS should be fired.
One prominent Democrat — former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs — has already said heads should roll. Gibbs said during an MSNBC interview Monday that the enrollment problems are “excruciatingly embarrassing” for the White House.
"I hope they're working day and night to get this done. And when they get it fixed, I hope they fire some people that were in charge of making sure that this thing was supposed to work," Gibbs said. "We knew there were going to be some glitches, but these are glitches that go way beyond the pale of what should be expected."
Obama and his administration repeatedly predicted “glitches and bumps” before launching the new insurance marketplaces, and healthcare analysts agreed that some technical issues were indeed inevitable.
But the magnitude of healthcare.gov’s problems have come as a surprise to many policy experts, who expected users to at least be able to access insurance information when the site launched.
The political headache for the White House is smaller than it otherwise might have been, because the ongoing government shutdown and threat of default are still dominating the headlines.
At some point, though, a malfunctioning enrollment process will have substantive consequences for the law’s ability to work as intended.
The White House is aiming to enroll roughly 7 million people during the six-month window to sign up for coverage that begins in 2014. It hopes that roughly 2.7 million of those enrollees — slightly less than 40 percent — will be young adults.
Getting young people into the system is crucial to offsetting the cost of guaranteeing coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
Several of the states operating their own insurance exchanges have had better luck than the federal government. More than 100,000 people have applied so far, according to data from the handful of states that have released enrollment figures.
Enrollment would need to pick up significantly to meet the administration’s goals.