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Obama defends Healthcare.gov despite massive tech problems: 'there's no sugarcoating it'

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Obamacare Healthcare.gov website (STOCK)
Obamacare Healthcare.gov website (STOCK)

President Barack Obama gave a speech today to combat opponents' criticisms and soothe supporters' fears over the extensive problems with the online marketplace where Americans are supposed to buy health insurance. Healthcare.gov has had nearly 20 million visits since it launched on October 1st, according to the administration, but bugs and glitches have prevented many from being able to actually buy insurance.

"There is no sugarcoating it," Obama said during his speech. "The website has been too slow. People have been getting stuck during the application process. I think it's fair to say nobody is more frustrated by that than I am."

The president did not give a date when the problems would be fixed. Instead, he promised that the administration is working "overtime, 24-7" using experts from some of the nation's top private tech companies in order to fix the site. He said the administration will directly contact users who have gotten stuck in the application process "in the coming weeks" to help them get covered, and reminded the audience that we are still in the beginning of the six-month open enrollment period.

In three weeks, only 500,000 people have reportedly applied for health insurance through the federal marketplace and the 15 state marketplaces. Many of those applications may be invalid, however. Insurance companies are saying that applications generated through Healthcare.gov are producing errors that must be corrected by hand. Federal contractors told The New York Times that they had hoped to fix the site by November 1st, but that now seems unrealistic; others said the repairs could drag on into December.

Applying by phone just means an operator will type your information into Healthcare.gov

"Nobody's more mad about it than me that the website isn't working as well as it should, which means it's going to get fixed," Obama said today. The administration has promised a "tech surge" to eliminate the issues.

In the meantime, the president encouraged people to sign up for insurance by phone, in person, or by mail. Healthcare.gov has been updated to reflect these options. However, that may not help. Call center wait times were around one minute this morning, but operators are actually using the same site — Healthcare.gov — in order to register new customers. When The Verge called in to get help with registering, a representative apologized after getting stuck at the same spot in the process and told us to try again later.

It's unclear if in-person and mail applications also use the website, which relies on a database to compare plans and calculate subsidies, or go through a different process. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that oversees the site, did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.

"Nobody's more mad about it than me."

The press conference opened with a testimonial from Janice Baker, a woman from Delaware who successfully signed up for health insurance after receiving repeated errors. "Like many consumers out there, it took me a number of frustrating attempts before I could apply and select my plan," she said. "I'm here today to encourage other people ... and to tell them to have patience with this new system."

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