Is healthcare.gov ready for its close-up?

Bloomberg’s Shannon Pettypiece reports on the state of healthcare.gov before a second intense review beginning tomorrow, including a look at how some heavy users like insurers give the site low ratings. State-administered sites, said Pettypiece, are generally performing better.


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HARI SREENIVASAN:   Starting tomorrow the administration hopes the website can sign up as many of 50,000 people at once. Their goal is to have seven million people by the end of March.  For more on this we are joined by Sharon Pettypiece, she’s a healthcare report for Bloomberg News who has worked the beat for the past decade.

It’s odd for me to be almost asking for a website update – but how is it doing? Is it

SHANNON PETTYPIECE:  Well, it’s better than October 1st, that’s for sure but that doesn’t mean too much because if you remember October 1st, people were logging on and not getting past the homepage. They have been making progress. But as of last week, myself and my colleagues were out talking to people – talking to consumers; talking to insurance brokers; talking to non-profits that were trying to sign people up – they were saying that this site is still in pretty rough shape. A couple people gave it four out of ten as far as its functioning, obviously ten being the best.

One of the problems we’re hearing about most from people is that though the site has improved and now you can get to the last step – you can create an account, shop around for plans, find out if you are eligible for subsidies – but you get to the point where you say ‘OK, I’m ready to buy insurance,’ which if you recall is the whole point of this website, that’s where it locks up. That’s where it breaks down. So only a trickle of people is actually being able to buy an insurance plan.

And then there’s another issue on the back end that we’re hearing from insurers who are telling us the data from this website is still not being transmitted to them well. They are still not getting accurate information about who is signing up. People are signing up for insurance and not sure if the insurers are getting that information. So there are still a lot of very fundamental issues going on with this site. The administration says that they are working over the weekend. They’re still working. They’re still trying to work these out. Those on the front line of signing people up, they’re still quite skeptical at this point.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  One of the reasons is that this is almost a proxy for the entire efficacy of the law that people are looking at this so closely. So let’s say best case scenario – let’s say that tomorrow it launches and everything works as expected – does they math add up? Even at 50,000 people a day can they get to seven million by March?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE:  And there is the question of how many people are going to flood on at any one time. So theoretically, yes, by March 31st, that’s the when you have to sign up in order to comply with this mandate and not have to pay a penalty – theoretically they should be able to get enough people to sign up. But the concern is, that your show and other shows are going to be talking about how the administration plans to have this website functioning much better by December 1st, so a million people are going to show up and it’s going to crash the site again, So, right now they’ve gotten it to the point that about 50,000 people can be on it at any one time and it can handle about 80,000 people a day. Now if a million people or two million people show up on one day or close to the deadline that could bring the whole site down again. That’s the concern.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  So we should remind people that this is just for 36 states and that online is only one way of to do it.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE:  And again, the 36 states is important too because if you’re in one of those 14 states – New York, California – that built their own exchanges you could be watching this right now and saying what are you saying about problems signing up on the website, I signed up just fine.  Those states, tens of thousands of people have been able to get on there are enroll. It’s this federal site, healthcare.gov, that’s having all these issues.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And you can still call and go to a center, etc.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE:  Yes, and a lot of people are filling out and have been filling out these paper applications that they non-profit groups are giving them. But those could take a couple months to process so there’s a concern about that as well.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Shannon Pettypiece, thank you.