Obamacare Website Getting Fixes as Repair Deadline Passes

President Barack Obama’s administration was making more hardware and software fixes to the flawed federal health-insurance website as yesterday’s deadline to repair it passed.

“The site is performing well today with low overall error rates and response times despite heavier than usual weekend traffic,” Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

She said new servers installed for part of the system were allowing more people to use it more quickly. More changes were planned for last night to make healthcare.gov “work smoothly for the vast majority of users,” Bataille said.

The website is a crucial piece of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and its success -- or failure -- will have implications for the nation’s $2.7 trillion health-care system. The outcome will help define Obama’s legacy and influence the legislative agenda in a divided Congress, where Senate Democrats facing re-election next year have called for changes in the law.

Obama said at a news conference two weeks ago that by the end of November, most people who go to the site “will see a website that is working the way it’s supposed to.”

“The vast majority of consumers will be able to fill out applications, shop, compare plans and enroll in the insurance plans,” Jeffrey Zients, an Obama economic adviser overseeing the fixes, said at a Nov. 26 briefing with reporters on condition his comments wouldn’t be published until yesterday.

Off-Peak Hours

Underscoring the delicate state of repairs, the White House on Nov. 29 urged consumers using the healthcare.gov website to shop during off-peak hours. The administration has also asked its supporters to hold off promoting the website, which enrolled just 248 people in its first two days of operation in October because of software errors.

“Our work will continue into December and beyond to make further improvements,” Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the agency, said Nov. 29 in an e-mail, adding that yesterday was “not a magical date.”

Meanwhile, the automated part of the Obamacare enrollment system used to pay insurers won’t be ready until the spring of 2014, Albright said. The administration last week announced a temporary process in which the companies will receive estimated payments.

Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive officer of America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry group, said Nov. 29 that while the site is improved, “significant issues” remain.

‘End-to-End’ Enrollment

“Until the enrollment process is working from end-to-end, many consumers will not be able to enroll in coverage,” Ignagni said in a statement.

The website has been the centerpiece of the troubled rollout of the $1.3 trillion Affordable Care Act. The law seeks to extend coverage to most of the nation’s 50 million uninsured by expanding state Medicaid programs and creating government-run insurance exchanges to buy subsidized medical plans.

The website attracted 2.8 million on its first day Oct. 1.

From Florida to Alaska, there were doubts among workers paid to help enroll people about how well the website would perform. These so-called navigators said in interviews that the online federal insurance exchange has improved, yet outages and errors still prevent many from using it to buy coverage.

Error Rates

Error rates on the website have been cut to less than 0.75 percent from 6 percent, Albright said. The site’s capacity was expected to double to 50,000 users yesterday to allow more than 800,000 consumer visits per day, enough to handle demand, Zients said.

The Obama administration delayed a crucial part of the law earlier this year, giving businesses an extra year to provide their workers with insurance. Three unions that typically support Democrats, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, have asked lawmakers to rewrite a provision that they said gives businesses an incentive to employ workers for fewer than 30 hours a week.

The administration also delayed the second-year start of enrollment for health plans until Nov. 15, 2014, after the congressional elections. The White House said last week that small businesses won’t be able to use the health-insurance website until November 2014, a one-year delay.

Obama apologized last month to thousands of Americans who lost their medical insurance as a result of his health-care law, despite his repeated pledge that people who like their coverage would be able to keep it when the law took effect.

Larger Troubles

Republicans in Congress have described the website flaws as emblematic of larger troubles with the law.

“Americans are far less concerned about a website than they are about the availability and affordability of their health care,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.

“The White House has tried to dismiss stories about folks losing insurance by saying they had lousy plans to begin with, and that those Americans should be happy that the government is now forcing them to get a different one,” said McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. “But what so many have discovered is that Obamacare is actually worse.”

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner, said, “This isn’t about a broken website, it’s about a fundamentally flawed law.”

Some Senate Democrats, including Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, have also pressed for changes.

800,000 People

Health officials had a goal of enrolling 800,000 people through November and an estimated 7 million sign-ups were predicted for the first year.

The team working to fix healthcare.gov has repaired more than 300 bugs, Zients said. Workers have been moving at “private-sector speed” with “ruthless prioritization at all times as to what matters most,” he said.

Among the changes: If the website’s capacity is exceeded, users will be placed in a “customer-friendly queuing system which would notify you when to come back to the site and sort of be first in line,” Zients said.

“People are going to look back at the work we’ve done to make sure that in this country, you don’t go bankrupt when you get sick,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News’s Barbara Walters that aired Nov. 29. “That is going be a legacy I am extraordinarily proud of.”

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