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Two top U.S. hospital companies brush off Obamacare technical woes

Susan Kelly
Tuesday, 5 Nov 2013 | 1:10 PM ET

Nov 5 (Reuters) - Two U.S. hospital operators on Tuesday said technology problems bedeviling the federal government's online health insurance marketplace were gradually improving and will not stop them from pushing ahead with plans to provide care to those who sign up.

"If any company had three years' notice about having a website functioning for a major product launch on October 1, it would have worked. It's frustrating that it did not work," hospital operator Tenet Healthcare Corp Chief Executive Trevor Fetter said in an interview with Reuters following the company's third-quarter earnings conference call.

While the glitches that have prevented many potential health plan enrollees from signing up are disappointing, "we're not terribly concerned about it," Fetter said.

That is because those uninsured patients will not be able to access the new plans until January anyway, so there is still plenty of time to sign up, he said.

Fetter said problems with online access to the federal insurance exchange have been improving, and patients can also enroll through call centers, where waiting times have been coming down. State exchanges such as the one set up in California are working much better and are offering a selection of affordable plans, he added.

"This is a really important innovation," Fetter said. "I wouldn't judge it by the initial performance of the federal website."

HCA Holdings Inc Chief Executive Richard Bracken said issues with the federal website have not deterred the company from its own plans to contract with insurers to provide care to new patients.

Ninety-seven percent of HCA's U.S. hospitals have an exchange contract with access to a bronze level insurance plan, he said. Such plans have the lowest premiums.

"We are well-positioned to participate and provide healthcare services," Bracken said on the company's earnings conference call.