White House defensive; health website still flounders

Updated: 2013-11-01 13:45


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WASHINGTON -- This week saw continued problems with the website that comprises the centerpiece of US President Barack Obama's signature healthcare overhaul, with the White House going into full damage control mode.

The site is riddled with technical glitches preventing many visitors from completing enrollment in a variety of health insurance plans, and this week saw new concerns about the site's security.

Indeed, some experts and Republicans said the site could be a target for hackers to obtain people's personal information, such as social security numbers, which cyber criminals could use for illegal financial gains.

In the weeks after the site's launch, the administration granted more than a dozen exemptions to privacy laws, which would make people's personal information available to groups including contractors, consultants and Homeland Security.

On Wednesday, Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told Fox News that the committee was concerned about the site's security, echoing some experts' concerns that the treasure trove of site visitors' personal information may not be secure enough.

Those criticisms came as the White House made an effort to reassure Americans about the president's signature healthcare plan.

During a Congressional hearing Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized for the site's lackluster performance and said the buck stops with her, adding that Obama had no knowledge of the site's shortcomings before the October 1 launch.

The secretary also defended the site against mounting concerns that it may be easy pickings for hackers looking to steal personal information.

But that was not enough for some Republicans, and on Thursday the secretary was subpoenaed by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, who said the secretary answered some questions during the hearing but evaded many others.

A spokesperson for the secretary on Thursday said the department would continue to provide documents as requested, according to CNN reports.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua that Sebelius is unlikely to be fired, as letting her go, finding a replacement and going through a tough confirmation process would be counterproductive for the White House.

"Right now sacking Sebelius does not seem like the smartest move for President Obama," he said. "There's a lot of people calling for her to be fired, calling for heads to roll, but she's the one who has basically been shepherding in this law since the beginning. She's got some knowledge and insight that other people don't know about."

Meanwhile, Obama spoke out Wednesday in defense of the site, vowing that the problems will be repaired and lauding Obamacare for providing insurance for what he expects to be millions of previously uninsured Americans.

"We are going to see this through," he said to a crowd in Boston.