WASHINGTON - The Obamacare website, plagued by major problems since its rollout at the start of the month, should be functioning smoothly by the end of November, according to the official now in charge of fixing it.
Jeffrey Zients told reporters on Friday that an outside contractor, QSSI, will handle the task of resolving technical problems with the site that have become a serious political flashpoint for the Obama administration since going online on October 1.
"Healthcare.gov is fixable," Zients said on a conference call.
Appointed by President Barack Obama to address problems plaguing the site where consumers can review and shop for insurance under health care exchanges, Zients, a noted management consultant and a former White House budget office official, said the "vast majority" should be able to use all elements of the site within a month.
Separately, 10 Democratic Senators have asked Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to extend the open enrollment period for the insurance exchanges beyond March 31.
If the period is not extended, people who are uninsured after March 31 will face IRS fines.
The group, led by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, sent a letter to Sebelius on Friday.
In more than four hours of testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, officials of companies hired to create the Healthcare.gov website cited a lack of testing on the full system and last-minute changes by the federal agency overseeing the online enrollment system.
Angry exchanges between Republicans who oppose Obamacare and Democrats defending it erupted repeatedly, while the contractors insisted their work went fine even though the software buckled when the system went live.
Complaints about logging in, lengthy delays, incorrect information relayed to insurance companies and other problems have fueled continued GOP attacks on the 2010 Affordable Care Act that was upheld by the Supreme Court last year.
While visiting a health insurance call center in Phoenix on Thursday, Sebelius stuck to the Obama administration's line that the functionality of the online insurance marketplace Healthcare.gov is improving.
"People are going through every day," she said. "It's better today than it was on October 1, but it's a long way from perfect and we are determined to have it be perfect. But what we are is three weeks into a 26-week open-enrollment period, in football terminology early in the first quarter."
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