White House gives check-up on HealthCare.gov website

The White House announced Sunday that it had met its goal of making sure the beleaguered HealthCare.gov website was running smoothly for the vast majority of users, but the Obama administration still has work to do to repair the political damage from the troubled rollout of the program.


The Health and Human Services Department released a progress report Sunday on its effort get the troubled HealthCare.gov website on the mend. Administration officials said the worst of the online glitches, bugs and delays may be over. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House announced Sunday that it had met its goal of making sure the beleaguered HealthCare.gov website was running smoothly for the vast majority of users, but the Obama administration still has work to do to repair the political damage from the troubled rollout of the program.

"The bottom line is HealthCare.gov on Dec. 1 is night and day from where it was Oct. 1," said Jeffrey Zients, the administration official charged with overseeing the improvement effort. "The site is now stable and operating at its intended capacity at greatly improved performance."

Administration officials said the site is now working more than 90 percent of the time, up from about 43 percent in October, following a series of hardware upgrades and software fixes.

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"The site now has the capacity to handle 50,000 concurrent or simultaneous users at one time," wrote Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, in a blog post on the Department of Health and Human Services website. "We know that each visitor spends, on average, 20 to 30 minutes on the site per visit. So the site will support more than 800,000 consumer visits a day."

"So we have a much more stable system that's reliably open for business," she added.

The Associated Press' Phil Elliot reports that the improvements could lead to more people signing up ahead of the deadline. He notes:

The first big test of the repaired website probably won't come for a few more weeks, when an enrollment surge is expected as consumers rush to meet a Dec. 23 deadline so their coverage can kick in on the first of the year.

Congressional Democrats, who have been put on the defensive because of the problems with the launch, welcomed the news.

"This is the equivalent of having a great item that you want to buy in a store but not being able to get through the front door. It sounds like the front door has been opened successfully now, and hopefully we're going to have Americans get access to that health care they desperately need," Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said Sunday during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Republicans, meanwhile, said fixing the website would not change the underlying problems with the health care law.

"I do hope that the efficacy of this is much better today and will improve. But at the end of the day, while there will be a few winners, most Americans are going to find a less dynamic health system," Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said on CBS. "I still think the foundations of this plan have some of the same kinds of problems that the rollout has had, but they're fundamental, very hard to overcome. And unfortunately, as people enroll, I think there's going to be a lot of negative surprises as to what they're able to enroll in."

The New York Times' Robert Pear and Reed Abelson report that insurers remain concerned that the repairs to back-end parts of the system will not be completed before the start of 2014. They write:

The issues are vexing and complex. Some insurers say they have been deluged with phone calls from people who believe they have signed up for a particular health plan, only to find that the company has no record of the enrollment. Others say information they received about new enrollees was inaccurate or incomplete, so they had to track down additional data -- a laborious task that would not be feasible if data is missing for tens of thousands of consumers.

In still other cases, insurers said, they have not been told how much of a customer's premium will be subsidized by the government, so they do not know how much to charge the policyholder.

The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, notes that insurers are also looking at ways to bypass the federal exchange altogether.

And Bloomberg is reporting Monday that "about 100,000 people signed up for health insurance through the online federal exchange last month, a roughly four-fold increase from October."

With lawmakers in the House returning to Washington late Monday after a weeklong recess, there's little doubt Republicans will continue to challenge the Obama administration on the site's rollout and other difficulties. That's one reason the White House announced last week that the administration will delay the mandate and penalties for small businesses to enroll in that provision of the health care law.

Between HealthCare.gov's troubles and insurance companies canceling some policies in response to the Affordable Care Act, the issue will remain front and center. For the Obama administration, getting the website up and running is just the first step in what is likely to be a long rebuilding process.

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