WASHINGTON - The contractors for the government's troubled healthcare website sought to deflect blame on Wednesday as more Democrats voiced concerns about the implementation of President Barack Obama's signature domestic policy.
Administration officials, in damage-control mode for nearly a week, held a closed-door briefing for Democrats in the US House of Representatives and a private session with insurance company executives, who said they would assist in efforts to fix the Healthcare.gov website.
Websites are the primary vehicle for consumers to shop for insurance through exchanges set up under the healthcare programme.
With the rocky launch of the "Obamacare" insurance exchanges entering its fourth week, additional Democrats came forward, some urging the president to extend the open-enrollment period for buying health insurance through the programme beyond the existing March 31 deadline.
One Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said he would join a Republican effort to delay the so-called"individual mandate," that requires people to buy insurance or face a tax penalty.
Manchin, in a Fox News interview on the "The O'Reilly Factor," called for a transition year with no fines. "Let's work through the problems. We've got a lot of problems, they have been identified. I think everybody has recognised them. Let's fix it. Let's get together and fix things," he said.
White House officials said on Wednesday that enrolment requirements were being changed so that consumers could sign up for health insurance right up to the March 31 deadline and avoid penalties. Some people previously needed to be signed around Feb. 15 to meet the end of March deadline.
A White House official said that pushing back the sign-up requirement was not related to glitches with Healthcare.gov, but was simply an effort to eliminate confusion over the two deadlines.
The comments from the handful of Democrats posed a new potential hazard for the White House and gave Republicans a chance to portray their efforts to derail the healthcare programme as bipartisan.