Obama defends health act, but says 'no excuse' for website problems

President Obama stood front-and-center Monday morning to defend and explain the Affordable Care Act -- now known as ObamaCare -- and the problems that have plagued the central website launched earlier this month to sign up consumers.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, with another carefully crafted backdrop of ObamaCare users, the president said "there's no excuse" for the problems with the site.

But he appealed to the public to have patience and defended the product -- government-regulated health insurance -- that the troubled site is selling. For now, Obama said, consumers can "bypass the website," and instead apply over the phone or by mail.

The president's comments from the Rose Garden amounted to the most detailed explanation from the administration to date about what is going wrong with the site and what's being done to fix it. It was also the most direct acknowledgement from the president that the site is not living up to expectations.

The president said the site "hasn't worked as smoothly as it was supposed to work" and "nobody's more frustrated by that than I am."

"There's no sugarcoating it. The website has been too slow. People have been getting stuck during the application process," Obama said. "There's no excuse for the problems. ... These problems are getting fixed."

Republicans were not convinced.

"ObamaCare is collapsing under its own weight, and a Rose Garden speech isn't going to fix it," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement.

Republicans continued to voice concern not just with the site, but with the law. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said that while Obama appeared with people who signed up for insurance, he's also "ignoring the untold number of Americans who are losing the plans they liked because of Obamacare."

The president said the administration is doing "everything we can possibly do" to get the site running properly. He said a team of experts from the private sector has been called in to help. But he said users, in the meantime, can download an application and apply by mail, or use the phone number now posted on the HealthCare.gov website to apply by phone.

"The Affordable Care Act is not just a website. It's much more," Obama said from the Rose Garden, flanked by Americans who have signed up for coverage through the troubled system.

Meanwhile, the publication Consumer Reports in a recent review said consumers who are overwhelmed by the glitches should "stay away" from the site for "at least another month."

Obama stressed that there's still time for the problems to be addressed.

The president spoke as administration officials also began to come forward with details about what went wrong with HealthCare.gov.

The Department of Health and Human Services on Sunday posted a blog on its site with some preliminary statistics and an assurance to Americans that officials are "working around the clock" and "committed to doing better." The department vowed a "tech surge" to address the problems.

But lawmakers and pundits on both sides of the aisle have publicly complained about the rollout, and wondered whether the tech team will be able to fix the widespread problems in time.

Republican lawmakers are also pressuring HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to testify. The House Energy and Commerce Committee confirmed late Monday that she would testify before the full committee Oct. 30.

The HHS blog says roughly 500,000 applications for coverage have been submitted. It also states that healthcare.gov has had roughly 19 million unique visits; it's unclear how many have actually enrolled.

The Republican National Committee on Monday sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for that information.