Major health website bugs fixed, officials say, but more work needed
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Sunday it had met its deadline to fix the major problems that have hobbled the federal healthcare website since its disastrous debut two months ago, but officials acknowledged that further repairs were necessary.
Reporting on its attempts to improve the HealthCare.gov portal, officials said that Web pages on the site now loaded in less than one second, down from eight seconds in late October.
The system now operates more than 90% of the time, up from 40% during some weeks in October. The average rate of timeouts or other Web page failures has dropped to less than 1%. It was as high as 6% in October.
“We have a much more reliable system,” said Jeffrey Zients, the management expert brought in by the White House to help rescue the public face of President Obama’s signature legislative program.
The website was launched Oct. 1 as a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act, allowing Americans in 36 states who do not get health insurance from employers to shop for and compare insurance policies. Residents in the other 14 states and the District of Columbia are supposed to use state-operated exchanges.
When the federal website proved to be balky, the administration promised to get it working for the “vast majority of users” by Nov. 30. Officials said Sunday they had achieved that target even if the site was not error-free.
Overall, HealthCare.gov now can handle 50,000 users at once, as was originally intended, officials said. The site should be able to accommodate 800,000 users a day.
Administration officials concede that the site still may not be able to handle the crush of people expected to seek insurance this month. Consumers need to select health plans by Dec. 23 if they want coverage to begin Jan. 1.
During peak times, some consumers may be put into a queue to gain access, officials said.
It is unclear how effectively the site is processing applications. The Obama administration has refused to disclose data about the accuracy of consumer information being transmitted to insurance companies.
Sunday’s progress report provided a stark reminder of how poorly HealthCare.gov was functioning at the start.
“Inadequate management oversight and coordination among technical teams prevented real-time decision-making and efficient responses to address the issues with the site,” the Health and Human Services Department said in the report.
Appearing on Sunday talk shows, Republican lawmakers continued to criticize the healthcare law but signaled that they were willing to let the White House absorb the political damage rather than try again to repeal it.
“I don’t know how you fix the many fundamental problems of this program,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) suggested that the problems should leave Americans wary of other White House initiatives, including Obama’s push to overhaul immigration laws.
“On POTUS’s calls for immigration reform, if ppl can’t trust O-care promises how can they have confidence this will work as advertised,” Cornyn said in a tweet.
Democrats expressed concern that the troubled rollout had clouded the goal of providing care to uninsured Americans and had created a political drag on the White House — at least for now.
“I think the president can right this ship,” Howard Dean, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
If the website works, he said, “three months from now, a huge number of people who didn’t have health insurance are going to have it, and mostly at a better price. I think that’s the proof in the pudding.”