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Health website to remain a work in progress

Posted on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 1:17 pm

KELLI KENNEDY, Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) – The website will still be a work in progress
beyond the end of the month, Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said
Tuesday, appearing to soften a promise that the site will be working by then
for the vast majority of users.

“The 30th of November is not a magic go, no go date. It is a work of
constant improvement. We have some very specific things we know we need to
complete by the 30th and that punch list is getting knocked out every week,”
Sebelius told The Associated Press.

Sebelius made stops in Orlando and Miami on Tuesday to address the fallout
over the new health care law’s paltry enrollment figures and continuing
website problems.

The Obama administration has staked its credibility on turning around by the end of this month. From the president on down,
officials have said the website will be running smoothly for the “vast
majority of users” by Nov. 30, but have been vague about what that actually

The definition has morphed in the past few weeks. At an Oct. 30
congressional hearing, Sebelius projected “an optimally functioning website”
by the end of November. On Nov. 5, Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, testified that the site would be
“fully functioning” by that date.

Last week, President Barack Obama said the “the improvement will be marked
and noticeable.”

On Tuesday, Sebelius told the AP it would work for most users by the end of
the month, but would still require fixes because of the magnitude of the
first-of-its-kind project.

“We recognize that there will still be periodic spikes, glitches, whatever
that people will experience,” she said.

When asked why officials pushed ahead with the Oct. 1 launch date despite
warnings the site hadn’t been properly tested, Sebelius said they were
hoping to give consumers as much time as possible to enroll before coverage
begins in January.

“We were hoping to maximize that,” she said. “Clearly that was a bad call.”

Federal health officials made significant improvements implementing software
fixes over the weekend, mostly dealing with the application portion, which
had stymied many users. More than 90 percent can now successfully complete
their applications, HHS communications director Julie Bataille said.

Sebelius visited Florida Technical College in Orlando before stopping at a
Miami hospital where a handful of “navigators” were trying to enroll
consumers on the website, but were plagued by embarrassing messages showing
the website was stalled even as Sebelius stopped and chatted with them.

The secretary has been traveling the country as the Obama administration has
been in damage-control mode, trying to beat back criticism that could make
Americans leery of using it.

Last week, federal health officials revealed that just 26,794 people
enrolled for health insurance through the federal website during the first,
flawed month of operations, and a total of 106,000 nationwide – a small
fraction of what they had projected. Florida had the highest enrollment of
the three dozen states relying on the federal website with 3,571 people.

Days later, the House voted to weaken a core component of “Obamacare” and
permit the sale of individual health coverage that falls short of
requirements in the law. More than three dozen Democrats broke ranks and
supported the legislation, a total that underscored the growing importance
of the issue in the weeks since millions of cancellation notices went out to
consumers covered by plans deemed inadequate under government rules.

In the wake of growing criticism over the cancellations, Obama tried to make
good on a previous promise, saying those who like their insurance can keep
it for one more year. However, the ultimate decision still lies with
insurers and state insurance commissioners.

On Capitol Hill on Tuesday, a panel of computer security experts raised
another fear – that the website is vulnerable to hacking. They said they
wouldn’t trust their own personal information to the site, although they
acknowledged they don’t have firsthand knowledge of the system and its

David Kennedy, head of the Ohio-based TrustedSec, a company that offers to
hack into private systems to determine vulnerabilities, told the House
Science Committee that a cursory look at the website revealed multiple
“exposures” that put it at “critical risk.”

Asked about those concerns, Sebelius said: “I feel like it’s safe.
Absolutely,” adding, “when there have been issues identified or flagged,
it’s immediately fixed.”