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Republicans accuse Obama administration over Healthcare.gov crash

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[June 19, 2014]  WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two Republican senators on Thursday issued a report accusing the Obama administration of pushing ahead with last October's botched rollout of HealthCare.gov website despite internal concerns that the technology would not work.

The 34-page document, issued jointly by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, alleges that the White House prevented the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from meeting website development deadlines by delaying decisions on related regulations.

The report, which surfaced as Republicans seek to make Obamacare a major issue in this year's midterm congressional elections, also blames senior officials from CMS and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for ignoring evidence that the website, intended to help uninsured Americans in 36 states find private coverage, had serious issues.

"CMS managers clearly understood the extent of the risks to the system, but chose to launch anyway," it said.

The assertion contrasts with public statements by officials including former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that claim the administration had no idea the site would face major problems.

"We didnít anticipate the levels of difficulty that we ultimately faced. We immediately worked to fix the issues and developed new management processes," CMS spokesman Aaron Albright said in response to Thursday's report.

The report cites an internal CMS assessment produced by the firm TurningPoint, which concluded that only 23 percent of HealthCare.gov's code had been tested at the time of the launch and that the HHS agency responsible for implementing Obamacare had no contingency plan for dealing with defects.

The Republican report is the latest to chronicle administration missteps behind a policy disaster that helped pushed President Barack Obama's signature domestic policy and Democrats to the brink of political crisis late last year.

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Online Obamacare health insurance marketplaces, which offer subsidized private coverage to lower-income people, are the cornerstone of Obama's Affordable Care Act. But technical glitches overwhelmed HealthCare.gov for nearly two months until an emergency technology team revamped the website by Dec. 1, raising doubts about whether Obamacare would succeed.

The site later worked well enough to accommodate large numbers of health insurance enrollees, and in the end, the administration and 14 states with their own exchanges signed up 8 million people in private health insurance, surpassing independent forecasts.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Ken Wills)

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