President Barack Obama said there's no excuse for the health exchange glitches and explained how consumers can bypass the HealthCare.gov website to sign up for coverage while his team fixes the technical problems.
Obama addressed the difficult launch of open enrollment at an event this morning in the White House Rose Garden, noting massive consumer interest in the exchanges aggravated underlying problems with the website.
Speaking about HealthCare.gov, Obama said "it's too slow, people are getting stuck during the application process, and it's fair to say no one is more frustrated than I am."
Obama also expressed confidence that the administration will fix all of the technical problems and highlighted some improvement efforts.
For example, as part of its damage control, the Obama administration has launched a "tech surge" to solve some of the more complicated technical problems, the White House said Sunday in a blog post. In addition to recruiting "the best and brightest" tech experts, the administration has performed several website updates, scheduled regular maintenance, and set up monitors to prioritize and fix errors.
The team of "best and brightest" will include U.S. Technology Chief Todd Park as well as several innovation fellows from the private sector, academia and nonprofits, Bloomberg reported.
Obama also emphasized that while HealthCare.gov will be the easiest way to sign up for coverage in the marketplaces, it's not the only way to enroll: Consumers can purchase the same quality exchange plans the old-fashioned way, over the phone or in-person.
With that in mind, the HealthCare.gov homepage now offers more information about other ways to enroll, how to talk to a specialist to apply over the phone and how to download an application to mail the traditional way. The administration also added more staff to call centers that run 24/7 and operate in 150 different languages.
As the exchange website suffers problems, Obama pointed out the essence of the healthcare reform law is working fine.
"The Affordable Care Act is not just a website. It's much more," Obama said.
He pointed to the reform provision allowing children to stay on their parents' health insurance plan until the age of 26, deeper discounted prescriptions for seniors, and free preventive care, such as mammograms and birth control. "Those benefits are not going anywhere; they're not dependent on a website," Obama said.
The product the ACA offers to those who still lack insurance is quality, affordable insurance. "Through the marketplaces you can get health insurance for maybe the equivalent of your cell phone bill or cable bill. That's a good deal," Obama said.
Not only is that product working, but it also is in high demand, Obama said, adding that the glitch-ridden HealthCare.gov has received nearly 20 million visits and more than half a million people have submitted applications for federal and state exchanges.