Healthcare.gov Will Work Smoothly By End Of November, Government - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Healthcare.gov Will Work Smoothly By End Of November, Government Pledges

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NBCNEWS.COM - The troubled federal health insurance website will be fixed by the end of November, giving uninsured Americans two weeks to get signed up in time to have health insurance by the earliest possible date, officials pledged Friday.

One of the main government contractors, QSSI, has been assigned to oversee the fix, says Jeff Zients, the newly appointed chief White House economic adviser who's been tasked to fix the logjammed website.

"We are confident that by the end of the November, healthcare.gov will be smooth for the vast majority of users," Zients told reporters on a conference call.

"Over the last week we worked with a team of experts to conduct an assessment of the overall state of the healthcare.gov site," Zients said. They lent "fresh eyes" to the problems plaguing the site. "The system is getting better," he added. "There is a lot of work to do but healthcare.gov is fixable."

The website, which was promoted as a kind of Travelocity.com for buying health insurance, has been an embarrassment to the Obama administration since it opened Oct. 1. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says she did not know it would be such a disaster.

"I didn't realize it wouldn't be operating optimally before the launch," she told reporters while on a tour of East Austin Health Center in Austin, Texas, where she watched counselors help people struggling to use the website.

"We knew if we had another six months, we'd probably test further," Sebelius added.

On Thursday, several contractors, including QSSI, told a House committee that the site wasn't tested "end to end" until just two weeks before launch. They said they'd have preferred to have had months to test it.

Republicans and Democrats alike have been strongly critical of the site, and Republicans have said they believe the problems reflect weaknesses in the entire health care overhaul called for by the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The administration denies this and says the website, one of the main pillars of the reforms called for under the law, is getting better every day. Eventually the administration hopes 7 million people who currently do not have any health insurance will use the site to buy it. Most people will likely qualify for heavy government subsidies to do so.

The law requires just about everyone to have health insurance of some sort by next year. Most people are covered by insurance provided by an employer; most people over 65 have Medicare. But about 15 percent of Americans have no health insurance at all. Some states are expanding Medicaid, the health insurance plan for people with low incomes, to more adults but many are not.

Zients says 90 percent of people who come to the website now can create an account. But only about three in 10 can get all the way through the application process, he said.

He says he has a "punch list" of items to fix, including software bugs that have prevented the system from operating smoothly.

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