US official faces grilling over how Obamacare website became fiasco

US official faces grilling over how Obamacare website became fiasco

WASHINGTON - Two months before the troubled October 1 launch of Obamacare exchanges, a key administration official overseeing the programme assured a congressional oversight panel that work was on track to roll out a tested website that would make it easy for Americans to enroll in affordable health insurance coverage.

"This is a large and complicated endeavour that I am proud to lead, and every decision is being made by my prior work experience," Marilyn Tavenner testified on August 1 before the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, describing the launch of the website.

Come Tuesday, the former nurse who heads the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will again find herself before a House committee - this time, to explain how failed when the administration flipped the on switch.

She will face Republicans eager to prove, thus far unsuccessfully, that the White House orchestrated decisions that may have stalled the system.

Lawmakers on both sides of the partisan aisle are growing increasingly impatient with website snafus that they say are frustrating the public and adding to taxpayer costs. The White House has scrambled to fix technical issues and disputes Republican allegations that political motives were behind changes in the website's function.

Tavenner's scheduled testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee is expected to offer insight into the decision-making. A key player, she was cleared to visit the White House 425 times between December 2009 and June 2013, including for several meetings with Obama himself, visitor logs show.

One Oval Office meeting with Obama in March would have occurred as some technology officials in her agency publicly fretted about the possibility that the complicated website would malfunction, telling an insurance forum they were working to avert problems.

Tavenner, 62, who was confirmed for her job by the Senate in May, was optimistic about the rollout when questioned by sceptical Republican senators at an April hearing.

Tavenner is expected to be a critical witness this week because "she's more responsible for decisions made at CMS that probably led to this disaster," said Joe Antos, a healthcare analyst with the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank.

A committee aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "We expect her to be forthcoming. We think she'll be a very serious witness, and she's certainly integral."

Tavenner appears one day before her boss, US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, is due to testify before another panel in the Republican-controlled chamber.

Committee aides hope that Tavenner can describe system problems at the more complicated back end of the federal marketplace, where consumers determine their eligibility for premium subsidies and enroll in coverage. Aides and experts fear new crippling problems could emerge as enrollment picks up in November and early December.

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