HealthCare.gov website is running more smoothly now, says Obama
White House says most of the problems with launch of troubled website have been fixed, although system isn't back to full health yet
The White House said that the worst of the online glitches, crashes and delays may be over for the problem-plagued US government health care website, a key component of President Barack Obama's signature domestic policy initiative.
The stakes are high for Obama who has seen his approval ratings drop sharply since the rocky October 1 rollout of the HealthCare.gov website, threatening his ability to advance his second-term agenda. The website's shaky launch has left Obama's fellow Democrats nervous ahead of next year's elections when control of Congress will be at stake.
The Department of Health and Human Services said Sunday that the website is working more smoothly. But that doesn't mean HealthCare.gov is ready for a clean bill of health.
More than 50,000 people can log on to the website at one time and more than 800,000 will be able to shop for insurance coverage each day, the government estimated in a report released Sunday. If true, it's a dramatic improvement from the system's first weeks, when frustrated buyers watched their computer screen freeze, the website crash and error messages multiply.
Officials acknowledged more work remains to be done on the website that included hundreds of software bugs, inadequate equipment and inefficient management for its national debut two months ago. Federal workers and private contractors have undertaken an intense reworking of the system, but the White House's chief troubleshooter cautioned some users could still encounter trouble.
"The bottom line - HealthCare.gov on December 1 is night and day from where it was on October 1," Jeff Zients told reporters.
HealthCare.gov, which services 36 states, signed up just 27,000 people for health insurance coverage in October, while the 14 states that run their own websites enrolled 79,000. The total of roughly 106,000 was far off the administration's estimate that nearly 500,000 people would enrol within the first month of the six-month enrolment period.
The new figures for the website's capacity - which could not be independently verified - suggest millions of Americans could turn to their computers to shop for and buy policies from private insurers by the December 23 deadline so their coverage can kick in on the first of the year.
Politically, a fixed website could also offer a fresh start for Obama and his fellow Democrats after a wave of bad publicity surrounding the president's chief domestic achievement.
"This website is technology. It's going to get better. It's already better today," said Democratic congressman Keith Ellison, a co-chairman of the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Amid all the problems with HealthCare.gov, Obama set a deadline for Saturday for several significant problems to be resolved. The administration held a conference call with reporters on Sunday to give a status report and boast that 400 problems had been fixed but declined to say how many remain unresolved.
Even with the repairs in place, the site still won't be able to do everything the administration wants, and companion sites for small businesses and Spanish speakers have been delayed. Questions remain about the stability of the site and the quality of the data it delivers to insurers.
Obama promised a few weeks ago that HealthCare.gov "will work much better on November 30, December 1, than it worked certainly on October 1." But, in trying to lower expectations, he said he could not guarantee that "100 per cent of the people 100 per cent of the time going on this website will have a perfectly seamless, smooth experience."
Obama rightly predicted errors would remain. The department reported the website was up and running 95 per cent of the time last week - meaning a 1-in-20 chance remains of encountering a broken website.