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U.S. Health Website Handled Only 1,100 in Test at Start

The Obama administration’s health insurance website handled only 1,100 simultaneous users before faltering in a test a day ahead of its opening, according to a contractor’s report.

A Sept. 30 “stress” test on the site, healthcare.gov, found it accommodated 1,100 users “before response time gets too high,” contractors wrote in the “ACA Daily Testing Bulletin,” released yesterday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The report was produced by Quality Software Services Inc., a UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH) unit hired by the federal government to help build the online marketplace.

“There’s no question we wish we had done more testing,” Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, said in an e-mail. “But we are now working around the clock to improve the consumer experience on healthcare.gov. One of the items we have ticked off our punch list is response times for page loads, which we have reduced dramatically from eight seconds to less than one second.”

The website is intended as the main portal for millions of uninsured people in 36 states to buy health coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. Since its start on Oct. 1, people using the site have experienced slow page-loading times, blank pages and hang-ups in the enrollment process, flaws the Obama administration said have prevented many people from signing up for health plans.

The administration initially blamed higher-than-expected traffic to the website for many of the troubles, noting that 8.6 million people visited the site during its first three days.

Tech Surge

HHS announced a repair effort on Oct. 20 that it called a “tech surge.” On Oct. 22, President Barack Obama appointed Jeffrey Zients, his incoming chief economic adviser, as a management consultant for the repairs. QSSI, the UnitedHealth unit, was appointed lead contractor for the project, and Zients said the site would be fixed by the end of November.

Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. health secretary, reiterated that promise today at a Senate hearing.

“By the end of November we are committed to having a site working smoothly for the vast majority of users,” Sebelius told members of the Senate Finance Committee.

Americans have until Dec. 15 to enroll in health plans that would start Jan. 1. Those who don’t find insurance by March 31 may have to pay a fine of as much as 1 percent of their income.

Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the House oversight committee, obtained the QSSI document after issuing a subpoena to the company on Oct. 29, Caitlin Carroll, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Wayne in Washington at awayne3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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