Democrats downplay significance of ObamaCare website problems

Greg Nash

House Democrats downplayed the significance of problems facing ObamaCare's enrollment system after their first post-rollout meeting with administration officials. 

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Democratic lawmakers appeared upbeat after leaving a presentation from Gary Cohen, a key figure in ObamaCare's implementation at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

"We didn't work our hearts out for a website," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), quoting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).  

"The route in, that's a technical issue that we think is being solved," Schakowsky said. 

There was also no discussion of delaying ObamaCare's individual mandate, according to members — a possibility that's been floated as users struggle to purchase healthcare coverage on the ObamaCare site.

HealthCare.gov has been beset by problems since its debut on Oct. 1. A failure to strengthen the system would spell doom for the new health insurance marketplaces, which aim to enroll seven million patients by the end of March.

The Obama administration is rushing to triage the site with a "tech surge" and the appointment of Jeff Zients, the former acting White House budget director, as chief fixer.

But as the enrollment period's first month draws to a close, it is still unclear how many people can actually sign up for insurance using the online system.

Though they received no timetable from the CMS, Democrats expressed confidence that the technical errors would be fixed by December, when patients must sign up in order to obtain coverage in January.

Several complimented new browsing features on the website, or said enrollment is going smoothly in their states, most of which constructed their own marketplaces.

"We're not happy if the process doesn't work well," House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) said at a press conference.

"But for us," he added, "while the process should not be a problem, our biggest concern is with the product. We want the product to be there for many Americans." 

Cohen briefed lawmakers alongside CMS Communications Director Julie Bataille.

—Mike Lillis contributed.