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White House: HealthCare.gov Repair Goals Largely Met; Insurers Skeptical

White House: HealthCare.gov Repair Goals Largely Met; Insurers Skeptical

December 2, 2013 — The Obama administration on Sunday announced that it met its self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline to improve HealthCare.gov so that it "work[s] smoothly for the vast majority of users" but acknowledged that more work remains, the Washington Post reports.

A progress and performance report released Sunday by HHS concluded that most of the department's goals for Nov. 30 had been met, such as expanding the website's capacity to withstand as many as 50,000 users at one time and up to 800,000 visitors daily and reducing error rates so they are "consistently well below 1%" (Somashekhar/Sun, Washington Post, 12/1). According to the report, the administration has "deployed 12 large dedicated servers" and upgraded a storage unit to triple the capacity of the website's main database and improve response times (Pear, New York Times, 12/1).

During a teleconference with reporters, Jeffrey Zients -- the White House official overseeing the website's repairs -- said that HealthCare.gov now works more than 90% of the time, up from about 43% after its Oct. 1 launch.

Zients said IT workers made more than 400 fixes -- 50 of which were made Saturday night -- and upgraded the software used for the enrollment process (Washington Post, 12/1). He added that the hardware changes have increased the websites "redundancy and reliability," eliminating a bottleneck that prevented many users from creating an account in early October (New York Times, 12/1).

"The bottom line is HealthCare.gov on December [1] is night and day from where it was October [1]," Zients said. He added, "The site is now stable and operating at its intended capacity at greatly improved performance" (Kennedy, USA Today, 12/1).

However, HHS noted that the administration has yet to meet its goal of reducing the average response time to half a second. As of Sunday, an administration official said the website pages take about one second to load. The report noted that IT workers will continue over the next few months to "improve and enhance the website and continue to improve the consumer experience" (Washington Post, 12/1).

In addition, the report provided a stark analysis of the leadership problems that resulted in the failed Oct. 1 launch. It said, "Inadequate management oversight and coordination among technical teams prevented real-time decision making and efficient responses to address the issues with the site" (Levey, "Politics Now," Los Angeles Times, 12/1).

HealthCare.gov's Next Hurdle

Although Zients said the website was able to handle an uptick in traffic over the weekend, some experts said it is unclear if the website will be able to withstand a surge of traffic just before the Dec. 23 deadline for individuals to purchase coverage that begins on Jan. 1, the Post reports (Washington Post, 12/1).

According to Reuters, networks of volunteer organizations -- such as Enroll America -- are expected to resume helping U.S. residents enroll in coverage this week, after months of delays and website failures prevented them from doing so (Morgan, Reuters, 12/2).

Zients noted that consumers who visit the website when it is at capacity will be placed in a queuing system, which is designed to prevent the website from crashing while allowing users to be notified via email when they are able to access the site (Washington Post, 12/1).

Functionality for Insurers

Meanwhile, Zients said that software fixes installed on Saturday night should also help to improve "the back end of the system," which has stymied insurers' ability to enroll consumers, the New York Times reports.

However, insurers said they still are receiving duplicate information, and at times no information, on enrolled consumers, which prevents them from issuing insurance cards. As a result, there is concern among insurers that they still will face the same problems as before Nov. 30. In late November, a federal document indicated several problems with HealthCare.gov, such as incorrect information about consumers' eligibility for federal subsidies and incomplete information on enrollment notices.

Insurers also concerned that the issues will prevent the government from making payments for the first batch of insured consumers by mid-January.

Although there has been some talk of finding a workaround for the system, experts said insurers have little choice but to wait for the federal government to address the problems (Pear/Abelson, New York Times, 12/1).

In Op-Ed, HHS Sec. Sebelius Notes 'Dramatic' Improvement

In a USA Today opinion piece published Sunday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius touted the improvements made to HealthCare.gov, calling it "a dramatic improvement over where it was on Oct. 1."

However, she noted that "there will be exceptions" and directed U.S. residents "who have experienced difficulties" to contact the 24/7 call center or "find in-person support in your area." She also recommended that those who prefer to enroll online visit the website during "off-peak hours when there is less traffic -- mornings, evenings or on weekends."

She concluded, "At the end of the day, our goal remains the same: to give every American who wants it the opportunity to obtain quality affordable health coverage" (Sebelius, USA Today, 12/1).