President Barack Obama is frustrated by the problems in the rollout of his signature healthcare reform and the administration intends to fix them, but the program's real test will not come until early next year, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said on Sunday.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Lew said the administration was determined to repair the technical glitches in the online insurance exchanges that are a central part of the program known as Obamacare. It launched on October 1.
"I think that there's no one more frustrated than the president at the difficulty in the website," Lew said. He said the Department of Health and Human Services "has got plans to fix this and it has to fix this. It has to be done right."
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is expected to provide private health coverage to an estimated 7 million uninsured Americans through the new online marketplaces that opened for enrollment in all 50 states on October 1.
But the website Healthcare.gov, the administration's online portal for consumers in 36 states, was hobbled by technical problems — including error messages, garbled text and delays loading pages. Administration officials blame the problems partly on an unexpectedly high volume of 14.6 million visitors in its first 10 days.
Republicans in Congress have chastised Obama's top health adviser, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, for declining their invitation to testify about the glitches to an oversight panel on October 24.
"It's well past time for the administration to be straight and transparent with the American people," Republican Representative Fred Upton, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement last week.
But many Republicans were criticizing the program long before its rocky launch. A 16-day partial government shutdown that ended last week was precipitated by Republican demands to delay or defund Obamacare.
Lew told "Meet the Press" that the program's test would be in January, when the actual coverage starts for people who have enrolled by December 15.
"I think that if we get that right, everyone will regret that the early weeks were choppy on the website. But the test is: are people getting coverage and are they getting the care that they need. And we're confident we're going to be on track to do that," the treasury secretary said.
Obama said in an interview with National Public Radio on October 1 that he was prepared for some problems in the early months of Obamacare as healthcare exchanges were launched.
"There will be a six-month enrollment period. In the first week, first month, first three months, I would suspect that there will be glitches. This is 50 states, a lot of people signing up for something. And there are going to be problems," the president told NPR.