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Democrats disturbed by Obamacare rollout -- and GOP criticism

October 23, 2013|By Lisa Mascaro

WASHINGTON -- President Obama’s Democratic allies in Congress said Wednesday they are “not happy” about the glitch-filled rollout of the healthcare law, but criticized Republicans for trying to kill Obamacare rather than fix it.

“It’s very disturbing to see that the website hasn't performed as well as we would like,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), the No. 4 Democrat in the House, emerging from a private briefing with administration officials. “I think it's even more disturbing when individuals intentionally work against the American people and the rights that they have now secured to access quality, affordable health care.”

Seeking to tamp down growing concerns about the Affordable Care Act’s clunky online exchanges, administration officials met with Democrats on Capitol Hill to discuss efforts underway to improve the performance. Obama has promised a “tech surge,” and brought in experts to fix the site.

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Republicans, meanwhile, said the law -- and its mandate that all Americans carry insurance by or face fines -- should be put on hold until the website problems are resolved. Republicans have tried unsuccessfully to stop the law, including efforts that recently led to the 16-day federal government shutdown.

“The rollout of Obamacare is nothing short of a debacle and the American people are now fearful of their healthcare,” said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the majority leader. “I mean, they're downright scared about what's going to happen with their healthcare next year.”

The website has been jammed and had other problems as tens of millions Americans have tried to buy health insurance once the new program began Oct. 1.

Republicans are hauling Obamacare contractors before an oversight committee this week to dig into what went wrong. They also want to hear from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has agreed to testify next week after declining an earlier request.

Some have suggested Sebelius should be fired for the problems, but Democrats said Wednesday there was ample time for officials to be held accountable.

“It's also not just about a website: Health insurance is about health security for millions and millions of Americans who heretofore have not had the ability to afford health insurance,” said Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.). “Under the Affordable Care Act, that's about to change for them. Republicans are looking for problems to exploit, we Democrats are looking for problems to fix and to find solutions for.”

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On Wednesday, the deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Gary Cohen, was among those briefing Democratic lawmakers in the private meeting.

The CMS officials “leveled” with lawmakers the rollout was not performing as they had wanted, but they were working to fix the problem, according to a source familiar with the talk.

Officials are also expected to brief Republicans, after a request for information was made by GOP leaders.

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