HHS: “˜We Have Met the Goal’ for Obamacare Website

The Obamacare website is much improved, the administration declared Sunday.

Mercy Cabrera, an insurance agent with Sunshine Life and Health Advisors, speaks on the phone as she helps a person with information about an insurance policy under the Affordable Care Act at the store setup in the Westland Mall on November 14, 2013 in Hialeah, Florida.
National Journal
Sam Baker
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Sam Baker
Dec. 1, 2013, 5:55 a.m.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion de­clared suc­cess Sunday in its quest to fix the troubled Obama­care en­roll­ment web­site “for the vast ma­jor­ity of users.”

Of­fi­cials from the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment said Health­Care.gov has met key per­form­ance met­rics, and that “in the zone of 80 per­cent” of users can make their way through the site suc­cess­fully. The un­usu­al Sunday morn­ing press call provided the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s up­date on Pres­id­ent Obama’s pledge to fix most of the prob­lems plaguing the troubled fed­er­al health-in­sur­ance ex­change by the end of Novem­ber.

“In ef­fect we’ve widened the sys­tem’s on-ramp,” said Jeff Zi­ents, the former White House budget dir­ect­or lead­ing the Health­Care.gov re­pair ef­fort.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion gave few de­tails, however, about one of the biggest is­sues fa­cing the site — in­ac­cur­ate and in­com­plete in­form­a­tion sub­mit­ted to in­sur­ance com­pan­ies. Fix­ing those er­rors is es­sen­tial to a smooth and func­tion­al en­roll­ment pro­cess, and HHS said it has pri­or­it­ized more vis­ible flaws in the con­sumer ex­per­i­ence while wait­ing to see how bad the site’s back-end prob­lems really are.

“Un­til the en­roll­ment pro­cess is work­ing from end-to-end, many con­sumers will not be able to en­roll in cov­er­age. In ad­di­tion to fix­ing the tech­nic­al prob­lems with Health­Care.gov, the sig­ni­fic­ant ‘back-end’ is­sues must also be re­solved to en­sure that cov­er­age can be­gin on Janu­ary 1, 2014,” said Kar­en Ig­nagni, the CEO of Amer­ica’s Health In­sur­ance Plans.

Zi­ents said Sunday that the site can handle 50,000 users at once — a key met­ric for meas­ur­ing its suc­cess, and the traffic load the site was sup­posed to be able to handle when it first launched on Oct. 1.

Health­Care.gov, on Decem­ber 1, is night and day from where it was on Oc­to­ber 1,” Zi­ents said.

When the site launched in Oc­to­ber, it was down more of­ten than it was up, HHS said in a re­port Sunday. It was down an es­tim­ated 63 per­cent of the time for the first weeks of Oc­to­ber — and is now avail­able more than 90 per­cent of the time, ac­cord­ing to HHS.

That’s sig­ni­fic­ant pro­gress, but a web­site that is on­line more of­ten than not is also a rather ba­sic ex­pect­a­tion. Zi­ents ac­know­ledged that there is still work to do on the site, and that traffic will at times ex­ceed the 50,000 users the site is now able to handle.

Ju­lie Ba­taille, com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or for the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vices, said the ad­min­is­tra­tion is not yet ready to un­leash the biggest com­pon­ents of its pro­mo­tion­al blitz for Af­ford­able Care Act en­roll­ment. The fo­cus now is on re­con­nect­ing with users who tried to use the site dur­ing its failed launch, ur­ging them to give en­roll­ment an­oth­er shot.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion won’t reach out to new con­sumers just yet, Ba­taille said.

“While we strive to in­nov­ate and im­prove our out­reach and sys­tems for reach­ing con­sumers, we be­lieve we have met the goal of hav­ing a sys­tem that will work smoothly for the vast ma­jor­ity of users,” CMS’ re­port on the site said.

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