President Obama and congressional Republicans continued wrestling over the troubled rollout of Obamacare's online insurance marketplace on Saturday, with a key GOP congressman again calling for the delay of the law's individual mandate and the president mocking Republicans' sudden concern about how user-friendly the law is after years of attempted demolition.
Since the launch of Obamacare's insurance exchanges Oct. 1, the website that governs the marketplace in 36 states, HealthCare.gov, has been beset by glitches that have prevented consumers from easily applying for coverage. In his weekly address on Saturday, the president conceded that the website's problems have been vexing.
"The site isn't working the way it's supposed to yet," he said. "That's frustrating for all of us who have worked so hard to make sure everyone who needs it gets health care. And it's especially frustrating for the Americans who've been trying to get covered. "
Still, he noted, "The site has been visited more than 20 million times so far. Nearly 700,000 people have applied for coverage already. That proves just how much demand there is for these new, quality, affordable health care choices."
And in the coming weeks, he promised, the issues would be smoothed out. "We've got people working overtime, 24/7, to boost capacity and address these problems, every single day," he said.
Jeffrey Zients, a businessman and former adviser to the president whom the White House has tasked with spearheading the website repairs, has said the website will be functionally ready by the end of November.
Republicans in Congress, though, aren't inclined to simply accept the administration's promises. On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee grilled representatives from four of the contractors involved in building the website, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is scheduled to appear before the same panel next week.
The chairman of that committee, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., slammed the continued problems with the website in the weekly GOP address on Saturday.
"At a time when we can do everything from ordering a pizza, flowers or airline tickets or banking and paying bills, they expect the same reliable service from HealthCare.gov - and it's still not ready for primetime," he said.
For months, Republicans have demanded a delay of the law's requirement for individuals to purchase health insurance or pay a fine, and Upton repeated that demand in his address.
"How can the administration punish innocent Americans by forcing them to buy a product many cannot afford, from a system that does not work?" he asked.
Upton argued that bipartisan support for delaying the individual mandate is growing. This week, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., circulated a letter urging the president to extend the open enrollment period beyond March 31, 2014 - the date after which Americans must have insurance or face a fine. Several Democrats from conservative states who are up for re-election in 2014 voiced support for Shaheen's proposal.
The president said on Saturday he's "willing to work with anyone, on any idea" to improve the law's performance, but he marveled that Republicans are suddenly so bothered that people can't efficiently navigate the law after they've spent years trying to dissolve it entirely.
"That's why it's also interesting to see Republicans in Congress expressing so much concern that people are having trouble buying health insurance through the new website," he said. "Especially considering they've spent the last few years so obsessed with denying those same people access to health insurance that they just shut down the government and threatened default over it."
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