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John B.
Republican WY

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  • Health Care Exchanges

    by Senator John Barrasso

    Posted on 2013-10-09

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    BARRASSO. Madam President, I appreciate the comments of my colleague from Illinois, and I have heard him make reference to the insurance exchanges that opened last week. It was 1 week ago President Obama's health insurance exchanges opened, and by all accounts it was a complete disaster.

    The administration had 3\1/2\ years to prepare for the big launch. It spent months and millions of dollars advertising the start date. Yet on October 1, the American people had their first chance to sign up, and the exchanges flopped. It was a complete fiasco.

    [[Page S7314]] The administration tried to say it was caught off guard. They said they were caught off guard by too many people going to the Web site on the first day. Even Saturday Night Live ridiculed the excuse. They said: That is like 1-800-Flowers getting caught off guard on Valentine's Day.

    There were glitches the first day, but they lasted the whole week-- the entire first week. The question is, Did the administration finally get its act together? Well, actually, no, it didn't. The past weekend they had to pull down the Web site to try to fix some of the worst problems. USA TODAY, a newspaper whose editorials have actually in the past supported the health care law, had as yesterday's headline: ``Health sites generate more error messages than coverage.'' That was the headline. The subheadline: ``Exchange launch turns into an inexcusable mess.'' An inexcusable mess. And they go on: . . . the administration managed to turn the experience for most of those visitors into a nightmare. Websites crashed, refused to load, or offered bizarre and incomprehensible choices. Even though the system was shut down for repairs over the weekend, Monday's early reports continued to suggest an epic screw-up.

    The front page of the Wall Street Journal on Monday read: ``Software, Design Defects Cripple Health-Care Website.'' One does not take down a Web site for minor glitches. These are signs of major trouble. Some of us have been warning that the administration has failed to prepare properly. We said there would be security holes that would expose people to fraud and identity theft. It turns out the administration didn't even get to the point where the security flaws would actually matter early on because people couldn't even start entering their personal information. The exchanges were failing to launch. People got repeated error messages, and they couldn't fill out forms or applications. They couldn't create an account to start looking at the most basic of information to even make comparisons. When they tried to telephone to get help, they found long wait times and they got disconnected entirely. Even the administration's biggest cheerleaders admitted defeat. One reporter at MSNBC spent so much time trying to show viewers how to sign up for the exchange Web site on line that she actually gave up. They were playing this on television. She finally threw in the towel saying: If I were signing up for myself, this is where my patience would be exhausted.

    The Wall Street Journal tried to find out what went wrong. It talked to computer experts, who looked at the healthcare.gov Web site, and what the computer experts said is, ``The site appeared to be built on a sloppy software foundation.'' According to those experts, ``such a hastily constructed website''--and, of course, they had 3\1/2\ years-- ``may not have been able to withstand the online demand last week.'' Even the far-left Wonkblog at the Washington Post couldn't believe how badly the administration had failed. One of its columnists wrote: The Obama administration did itself--and the millions of people who wanted to explore signing up--a terrible disservice by building a Web site that, four days into launch, is still unusable for most Americans.

    It wasn't supposed to happen this way. President Obama promised using the exchanges would be like, in his words, shopping on amazon.com. Well, Amazon can handle 13 or 14 million transactions every day with no problem. There are over 5,000 Web sites generating more traffic than health care.gov.

    So how many people were able to successfully enroll in the health care exchanges on the first day? We have no idea. The administration doesn't want to talk about it. First, they said: We are thrilled so many people were checking out the Web site. By Sunday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was on multiple television shows refusing to answer questions about how many people had enrolled and just repeating the White House talking points. He claimed 4.7 million people had visited.

    If they are willing to tell us how many people have visited the Web site, why won't they tell us how many people actually got coverage? The administration says they won't provide any data to back up its claims until at least November.

    Remember, California claimed 5 million people visited their Web site for its own State exchange for the first day. They later had to back up and say that wasn't true. It turns out they had 645,000 visitors--less than 1 million, not the 5 million they claimed. That is a State that spent $313 million on their site and it couldn't handle even that many people, because they had trouble.

    President Obama said he was going to have the most transparent administration in history. The health care law is this administration's signature accomplishment. October 1 was the day they had been working toward for more than 3 years, and now the President won't tell the American people--won't tell any of us how many people have even signed up for health insurance. Why not? What is the President trying to hide? CNN looked into the 24 States that set up their own insurance exchanges under the law. They found that as of last Friday, about 52,000 applications had been started. That is not how many people have actually completed their application successfully; it is just they have started. It is not how many people have gotten insurance; that is just how many people get to the point of starting their application.

    Even if the Obama administration fixes the technical problems with its health insurance Web site, it will not have fixed the many problems with its health care law. The law will still not give people the lower cost, high-quality care they wanted--which is the reason we needed health care reform in the first place. But I think the American people will hold the President to his promises and hold the Washington Democrats who voted for this law to their promises.

    The President, right before the exchanges opened, said coverage in the exchanges should cost less than your cell phone bill. He said you should be able to keep your doctor. And he said it would be as easy and secure as amazon.com. So far, the President's health care law has failed on all of these. That was exactly what many of us warned would happen.

    It doesn't matter if the ObamaCare exchange system failures happened because of heavy traffic or because of design flaws. The administration officials should be embarrassed, but they should not be surprised. Republicans warned the exchanges were not ready for prime time, but the President and Democrats ignored calls for a delay.

    Why is the administration insisting now on fining people--fining people who don't have insurance, even though they can't sign up on the Web site successfully? The President unilaterally gave big businesses a 1-year delay in the employer mandate. Workers should get the same break that bosses get. If bosses get a 1-year delay in penalties, why shouldn't hard-working men and women all across the country get a 1- year delay of the individual mandate? President Obama should have delayed the launch of his insurance exchange until it was ready. That would have been the fair thing to do. It is still the right thing to do. It is also the fair and right thing to give individual Americans the same delay of the mandate that the President has unilaterally--without the action of Congress--given to businesses all around this country.

    Madam President, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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