House Committee Holds Hearing on Rollout of Online Health Exchanges

By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor

Federal lawmakers grilled contractors and one another during this morning’s House committee hearing looking into the problems plaguing the rollout of Obamacare.

“In my opinion, I think in the history of working with complicated IT systems, it’s difficult to see that there was a more incompetent systems integrated,” said Congressman Leonard Lance.

Other Republicans questioned whether the signup process for health insurance violated any HIPAA confidentiality laws. That’s when sparks flew.

“HIPAA only applies when there’s health information being provided. That’s not in play here today. No health information is required in the application process and why is that? Because preexisting conditions don’t matter,” said Congressman Frank Pallone. “Once again we have my Republican colleagues trying to scare everybody. No, I will not yield to this monkey court. This is not a monkey court. Do whatever you want, I’m not yielding.”

But even President Obama acknowledged the problems with the website earlier this week and said IT experts are working to fix them as quickly as possible.

Jersey City’s Health Director Stacey Flanagan had to phone the call center for help today after she couldn’t log on to the website. She admits she and her staff have faced numerous obstacles trying to help residents apply for health insurance via the online exchange. But she says persistence is the key.

“If you can’t get on the exchange you can pick up the phone and call, if you can’t get on the exchange you can visit your local health department, you can go visit your federally qualified health center, you can go visit your hospital and they will help you,” Flanagan said.

Jersey City has a team of navigators who are reaching out to residents to assist them with the application process. Flanagan says there have been few takers so far, but she expects that will change as the website is tweaked because the number of uninsured residents is relatively high.

“Fifty-five thousand people in Jersey City need health insurance, that’s uninsured that we know about,” Flanagan said.

The regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services is coming next week to meet with Jersey City health officials and non-profits to address some of these issues. In the meantime, Flanagan says she and her staff will continue to assist anyone having difficulty signing up for health insurance via the online exchange.