Problems remain for retooled website
A surge of visitors clogged the U.S. government's revamped healthcare insurance shopping website Monday, signaling that President Barack Obama's administration has a way to go in fixing the portal.
Facing its first big test since officials proclaimed over the weekend that they had met their deadline to make HealthCare.gov run smoothly for the "vast majority" of users, the site performed markedly better than it did during its disastrous launch two months ago — but was still short of the crisply running insurance marketplace Obama once touted.
By 5:30 p.m., the website had logged 750,000 visitors, the White House said, nearly the 800,000 daily users the refurbished site is supposed to be able to handle.
In states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Texas and North Carolina, the rush of traffic led to the deployment of a new feature on the site — a waiting page that said there were "a lot of visitors right now," and put people in line to be serviced, usually within minutes. By Monday evening, officials reported that the site was running smoothly, with no waiting.
But HealthCare.gov's hiccups on Monday fueled questions about whether it will be able to enroll several million uninsured and under-insured Americans in private coverage by the end of March. More immediately, the website will be pushed further by waves of visitors seeking to sign up for insurance by Dec. 23, the deadline to get coverage that begins Jan. 1.
For all of the efforts by tech specialists to improve the site, officials still are scrambling to repair and install functions on the "back end" of the Obamacare system that are needed to finalize enrollments with insurers. That could create another headache for the administration starting in January, if the enrollments for some who sign up for coverage via the website are not finalized before their coverage is supposed to begin.
"The real challenges remain, and that's downstream," said Rick Howard, research director for the technology consultant Gartner. "The real error rate will be in the billing transactions and how accurate the billing information is and how accurate the premium calculation is."
The administration said that in meetings with insurers and healthcare officials this week, it will refocus attention on the functions needed to handle insurance payments, including federal subsidies for low-income consumers buying coverage.
Without those functions working properly, HealthCare.gov and websites for 14 state-run marketplaces could have difficulty operating in 2014.
America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group, has said because of the system's administrative shortcomings, some insurers are receiving inaccurate or duplicative information about enrollees.
At the White House on Monday, Obama spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged that "the work is not done" on the website.