November Deadline for Obamacare Website Fixes in Question

An official says it is unlikely HealthCare.gov will be fully functional by the administration’s deadline.

A woman looks at the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange internet site Oct. 1, 2013.
National Journal
Sophie Novack
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Sophie Novack
Nov. 13, 2013, 1:51 a.m.

Prob­lems with the Obama­care web­site are so per­sist­ent that it is un­likely the sys­tem will work fully by the end of Novem­ber, The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ports.

Ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial with know­ledge of the pro­ject, Health­Care.gov is still un­able to handle high volumes of traffic, and the main con­tract­or for the site, CGI Fed­er­al, has re­paired only about six of the 10 prob­lems it has ad­dressed. 

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has set the end of Novem­ber as the time by which the web­site will be op­er­at­ing smoothly for the vast ma­jor­ity of users. The goal is con­sidered im­port­ant for in­di­vidu­als and in­sur­ance com­pan­ies to have suf­fi­cient time to fig­ure out cov­er­age by the en­roll­ment and man­date pen­alty dead­lines.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have main­tained that the site would be largely op­er­a­tion­al by then, and con­tract­ors and gov­ern­ment work­ers have been work­ing around the clock on fixes. Cen­ters for Medi­care and Medi­caid Ser­vices Ad­min­is­trat­or Mar­ilyn Taven­ner and Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sectret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us touted im­prove­ments to the site at Sen­ate hear­ings last week.

However, the of­fi­cial who spoke to The Post said that work­ers have con­cluded a “di­vide-and-con­quer” strategy that puts more em­phas­is on oth­er means of en­roll­ment — such as call cen­ters and sign­ing up with the in­sur­ance com­pan­ies dir­ectly — would be ne­ces­sary to en­roll large num­bers of people soon, so the on­line sys­tem isn’t over­whelmed.

Un­for­tu­nately, these al­tern­at­ive meth­ods are fa­cing some of the same prob­lems as the on­line sys­tem. In­sur­ance com­pan­ies have been press­ing for great­er abil­ity to en­roll people dir­ectly, as they cur­rently rely on the on­line sys­tem to de­term­ine wheth­er in­di­vidu­als qual­i­fy for premi­um sub­sidies, which is not work­ing prop­erly.

The of­fi­cial said work­ers will have this part of the sys­tem work­ing re­li­ably with­in two to three weeks, so that it is able to handle re­quests from in­surers and call cen­ters about sub­sidy eli­gib­il­ity.

CMS an­nounced on a press call Tues­day that it is send­ing emails to 275,000 people who have un­suc­cess­fully at­temp­ted to en­roll for cov­er­age through Health­Care.gov, en­cour­aging them to try again now that the web­site is im­prov­ing. The emails are be­ing sent in waves so that high volume does not over­whelm the site.

Pres­sure is in­creas­ing to fix the web­site fast, as law­makers are set to vote on le­gis­la­tion this week to al­low con­sumers to keep their old in­sur­ance plans. The White House says this would un­der­mine the func­tion­al­ity of the law. 

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