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Two months after its disastrous launch, HealthCare.gov is much better, working more than 90 percent of the time and up to the promised capacity of 50,000 users at any given time, government officials said Sunday.
But it’s not at 100 percent yet, with the final steps of enrollment still glitchy. While the site looks better to consumers, the final steps of signing up with an insurer and making sure a policy is paid for are still a work in progress, officials said.
"The bottom line: HealthCare.gov on December 1 is night and day from where it was on Oct 1,” Jeff Zients, the new White House economic adviser who’s heading the site repair effort, told reporters on a conference call. In October, the site was working only about 40 percent of the time, he said.
Zients said he put into place a new management structure with “clear accountability and rapid decision-making”, as well as a command center that monitors problems and moves to fix them in real time.
The website’s speed has more than tripled, Zients said, with 400 bugs fixed. That includes 50 bug fixes made Saturday night alone, including some to the so-called back-end system affecting insurers.
The new team, which included existing contractors and volunteers from the private sector, has fixed the registration database, Zients said.
“This is where we experienced a huge bottleneck when the site first launched,” he said. Now its capacity has been quadrupled. “Many more users can create new accounts and log on. In effect, we widened the system’s on-ramp. It now has four lanes instead of one or two.”
Experts say one way to tell whether the site is really working is when the insurance companies selling products on the site start advertising them.
The Health and Human Services Department promises to report by mid-December on how many people have managed to sign up for health insurance on the site so far. In October, just 26,000 managed to sign up using the federal website, which is serving 36 states. Some of the state-run websites have done much better, with more than 75,000 signed up in New York alone. New York is one of the states running its own website.
Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the website, said while the experience is “vastly improved,” as with any website “there is not a magic moment”.
One of the latest complaints from users: If they forgot their passwords, the button to get a reminder was broken. That was one of the glitches fixed over the weekend, Bataille said, although it may take a while for customers to notice all the repairs.
Bataille said CMS has been working on another goal – a system that would allow people to directly enroll with an insurance company instead of using the government site. She said there’s been good feedback from a pilot program involving 16 issuers in three states.
Because of all the website troubles, the Obama administration has given people an extra week to get signed up. People have until Dec. 23 to get enrolled for insurance coverage that will start on the first possible date, Jan. 1. People have until March 31 to get covered for 2014. Anyone going without health insurance, wither private insurance, Medicare or other government insurance, may have to pay a tax.