President Obama has accepted "full responsibility" for ensuring the troubled healthcare website gets fixed. Speaking in Boston, he said he was "not happy" about the glitch-laden project, but made a strong defence of the broader 2010 healthcare law. Earlier, his embattled health secretary apologized to the American people over the botched website rollout.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the largest overhaul of the US healthcare system since the 1960s. Commonly known as Obamacare, it aims to extend health insurance coverage to the estimated 15% of the American population who lack it. But a key element of the law, the federal website where consumers can shop for health insurance plans, has been plagued by malfunctions since its launch on 1 October.
Mr Obama said in Wednesday's speech: "There's no denying it - right now the website is too slow. Too many people have gotten stuck. And I'm not happy it about it. And neither are a lot of Americans who need healthcare."
Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: "I am as frustrated and angry as anyone with the flawed launch"
He spoke in Boston, Massachusetts, a state that in 2006 introduced a groundbreaking healthcare law that inspired the Obama administration's own nationwide overhaul. "Massachusetts has shown the model works," he said.
Mr Obama also touted the other benefits of the law, including government subsidies for health insurance premiums and ending insurance discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions or mental health issues. He also took a swipe at Republicans, who view the health law as a costly and inappropriate government intrusion into healthcare, and have sought to undo or undermine it at every turn.
"If they put as much energy into making sure the law works as they do attacking the law, Americans would be better off," the Democratic president said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a House of Representatives committee that she was to blame for the website's problems."Hold me accountable for the debacle," she said. "I'm responsible."
Addressing Americans, Ms Sebelius said: "You deserve better. I apologize. I'm accountable to you for fixing these problems." She acknowledged the website experience was "frustrating" for many, but said it would be fully up and running by the end of November.
Some Republicans have demanded she resign over the issue. They argue that the website's faults reflect broader problems with the healthcare law. Committee chairman Fred Upton, a Republican, called the website "inept", saying that five weeks into enrolment, "the news seems to get worse by the day". The committee's senior Democrat, Henry Waxman, acknowledged "the launch of the new website has not gone well", but he said the "early glitches will soon be forgotten".
Mr Upton also questioned why hundreds of thousands of Americans had received letters from their insurance companies saying their policies were being cancelled - despite past assurances from Mr Obama that people who liked their insurance plans would be able to keep them under the health law.
Ms Sebelius rejected that criticism, saying that those whose plans were dropped would have access under the new law to better insurance coverage at comparable rates.
Aside from establishing the federal insurance marketplace homepage and parallel websites run by 14 states plus Washington DC, the law bolsters coverage requirements for insurance firms, mandates that individuals carry insurance or pay a tax penalty, and offers subsidies to assist in the purchase of the insurance. It also expands eligibility for the Medicaid healthcare program for the poor in states where governors have agreed to it.
Amid the fallout, the White House has said it will grant a six-week extension - until 31 March 2014 - in the healthcare law's requirement for individuals to buy insurance or face a tax penalty.
- Long sign-in wait times
- Log-in difficulties
- Insurance account creation problems
- Slow page loads
- Inadequate testing of security controls prior to system launch
- Service outages
- Crashes in data hub linking Obamacare system to Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies
- Inadequate server capacity