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Watchdog: Accountability

Administration rebuffs Democrats' calls to close Obamacare website

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Watchdog,Richard Pollock,Obamacare,Health and Human Services,Health Care,2014 Elections,Accountability

Administration officials are rejecting calls from Democratic lawmakers to shut down the botched Obamacare website until it is fully functional.

Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told reporters in a press briefing Monday afternoon that federal officials now have the "ability to now quickly diagnose and fix issues" with healthcare.gov. She said "the best way for us to do that is for the site to continue operating."

Over the weekend, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, called for the closure of healthcare.gov until it is fully operational. She reportedly conveyed this message to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, also has called for a one-year delay for the individual mandate to go into effect. The mandate now requires all Americans to have health insurance by this spring.

Politico reported Monday that the Democrats' "united front" on Obamacare may be cracking. It is especially apparent, they reported, among Democratic lawmakers who may be vulnerable in the 2014 elections.

Neither Bataille nor Andy Slavitt, who represented systems integrator QSSI in the briefing, would commit to a specific date when the site would be free of problems.

Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius promised Congress that all problems would be fixed by the end of this month.

Meanwhile, a new outage was reported Monday by CMS, which it reported occurred at 12:40 p.m. Eastern time. It affected the enrollment portion of the site.

Bataille said that "outages are likely to occur and are a natural part of the process."

She also admitted that problems continue to afflict the "834" applications, which is the notification form that goes to insurance companies to finalize coverage.

Bataille said the healthcare.gov problems were not the result of hackers.

Still, the CMS spokeswoman was doggedly optimistic. "I think it's also important to remind you that every day, consumers are going to the site, are actively completing the application and enrolling."

CMS will not give any enrollment numbers until the middle of this month, but Sebelius admitted in congressional testimony they will be "very low."

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