White House: ACA Website Repaired; Insurers, Consumers Skeptical
On Sunday, the Obama administration announced that it met its self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline to improve HealthCare.gov so that it "work[s] smoothly for the vast majority of users" but acknowledged that more work remains, the Washington Post reports.
A progress and performance report released Sunday by HHS concluded that most of the department's goals for Nov. 30 had been met, such as expanding the website's capacity to withstand as many as 50,000 users at one time and up to 800,000 visitors daily and reducing error rates so they are "consistently well below 1%" (Somashekhar/Sun, Washington Post, 12/1). According to the report, the administration has "deployed 12 large dedicated servers" and upgraded a storage unit to triple the capacity of the website's main database and improve response times (Pear, New York Times, 12/1).
During a teleconference with reporters, Jeffrey Zients -- the White House official overseeing the website's repairs -- said that HealthCare.gov now works more than 90% of the time, up from about 43% after its Oct. 1 launch.
Zients said IT workers made more than 400 fixes -- 50 of which were made Saturday night -- and upgraded the software used for the enrollment process (Washington Post, 12/1). He added that the hardware changes have increased the websites "redundancy and reliability," eliminating a bottleneck that prevented many users from creating an account in early October (New York Times, 12/1).
"The bottom line is HealthCare.gov on December 1 is night and day from where it was October 1," Zients said. He added, "The site is now stable and operating at its intended capacity at greatly improved performance" (Kennedy, USA Today, 12/1).
However, HHS noted that the administration has yet to meet its goal of reducing the average response time to half a second. As of Sunday, an administration official said the website pages take about one second to load.
The report noted that IT workers will continue over the next few months to "improve and enhance the website and continue to improve the consumer experience" (Washington Post, 12/1).
In addition, the report provided a stark analysis of the leadership problems that resulted in the failed Oct. 1 launch. It said, "Inadequate management oversight and coordination among technical teams prevented real-time decision making and efficient responses to address the issues with the site" (Levey, "Politics Now," Los Angeles Times, 12/1).
HealthCare.gov's Next Hurdle
Although Zients said the website was able to handle an uptick in traffic over the weekend, some experts say it is unclear if the website will be able to withstand a surge of traffic just before the Dec. 23 deadline for individuals to purchase coverage that begins on Jan. 1, the Post reports (Washington Post, 12/1).
According to Reuters, networks of volunteer organizations -- such as Enroll America -- are expected to resume helping U.S. residents enroll in coverage this week, after months of delays and website failures prevented them from doing so (Morgan, Reuters, 12/2).
Enroll America President Anne Filipic said, "This December, Enroll America staff will work with hundreds of partner organizations and thousands of volunteers across the country to host more than a thousand 'Coverage Is Coming' events, reaching out to tens of thousands of consumers to encourage them to take the next steps to enroll in coverage" (Haberkorn, Politico, 12/1).
Zients noted that consumers who visit the website when it is at capacity will be placed in a queuing system, which is designed to prevent the website from crashing while allowing users to be notified via email when they are able to access the site (Washington Post, 12/1).
Consumers Concerned With Compressed Deadline
Despite the push by advocacy groups, some U.S. residents who live in states that rely on the federal health insurance exchange are worried they will not have enough time to enroll in coverage that takes effect on Jan. 1, Kaiser Health News reports.
According to KHN, being able to promptly enroll in coverage that begins on Jan. 1 is a major concern particularly for those who:
- Are uninsured because they cannot afford current coverage or have a pre-existing condition;
- Have insurance that expires Jan. 1 because their insurer canceled the policy or are in a high-risk pool that is closing; and
- Have serious medical conditions that require ongoing treatment (Rau, Kaiser Health News, 12/2).
Insurers Express Concern
Meanwhile, Zients said that software fixes installed on Saturday night should also help to improve "the back end of the system," which has stymied insurers' ability to enroll consumers, the New York Times reports.
However, insurers have said they still are receiving duplicate information, and at times no information, on enrolled consumers, which prevents them from issuing insurance cards. As a result, there is concern among insurers that they still will face the same problems as before Nov. 30. For example, in late November, a federal document indicated several problems with HealthCare.gov, such as:
- Some consumers were being "incorrectly determined to be ineligible for" federal subsidies;
- The federal system blocking enrollment of consumers whose entire premiums would be covered by subsidies; and
- Some enrollment notices missing the amount of the premium the consumer must pay, the amount of the subsidies and the identification number for a subscriber.
An anonymous insurance executive said, "Somehow people are getting lost in the process." Further, there are concerns that the issues will prevent the government from making payments for the first batch of insured consumers by mid-January. The insurance executive said, "If we want to pay claims, we need to get paid."
Although there has been some talk of finding a workaround for the system, experts say insurers have little choice but to wait for the federal government to address the problems (Pear/Abelson, New York Times, 12/1).
Sebelius Notes 'Dramatic' Improvement in Op-Ed
In a USA Today opinion piece published Sunday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius touted the improvements made to HealthCare.gov, calling it "a dramatic improvement over where it was on Oct. 1."
However, she noted that "there will be exceptions" and directed U.S. residents "who have experienced difficulties" to contact the 24/7 call center or "find in-person support in your area." She also recommended that those who prefer to enroll online visit the website during "off-peak hours when there is less traffic -- mornings, evenings or on weekends."
She concluded, "At the end of the day, our goal remains the same: to give every American who wants it the opportunity to obtain quality affordable health coverage" (Sebelius, USA Today, 12/1).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.