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Need honest exchange

Published October 22. 2013 4:00AM

Ok, it's complicated, we get it. However, this is something the Obama administration had to get right. It didn't and so far the excuses are lame.

Well aware of the criticism and skepticism confronting the Affordable Care Act, and knowing how important first impressions would be in building public confidence, the administration had every incentive and plenty of time - the law passed in 2010 - to make sure its online health insurance marketplace was ready to roll.

Clearly, it was not. Millions of Americans found their efforts to fill out applications online at healthcare.gov frustrated by software problems that left them with frozen screens or circulating through endless loops. That is not the sunny scenario President Obama described when Congress was debating the law.

"This exchange will allow you to one-stop shop for a health care plan, compare benefits and prices, and choose a plan that's best for you and your family," he said then.

States may have avoided this mess by starting up their own exchanges, as Connecticut did at ccesshealth.org, but the vast majority left it to federal authorities. Most state exchanges are running relatively smoothly.

At a White House Rose Garden appearance Monday the president called the problems with the program "unacceptable" and declared it is going to get fixed.

"Nobody's madder than me about the website not working as well as it should," said the president. Frustrated consumers may challenge that contention.

The president and his spokespeople continue to avoid specifics about what is going wrong, calling the failures "glitches" and blaming heavy volume, as if that should have been a surprise.

The New York Times, talking with contractors and federal officials with insider information, reported that the problems might well be pervasive. According to the Times' unnamed sources, the difficulty in creating accounts may prove the easiest to solve and more serious problems await as consumers try to sign up for policies.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., appearing on a weekend news program, said, "In the 21st century, setting up a Web site where people can go on and buy something is not that complicated."

Well, in fact, the health care exchanges are extremely complicated. One specialist told the Times the software coding is five times that found to run a large bank's computer system. But that's no excuse.

The administration must be fully transparent about the problems and the progress in solving them. That can began by having Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, testify before a congressional committee as requested.

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