The White House says it has fixed more than 400 software bugs that crippled the debut of healthcare.gov two months ago. The system is now supposed to be running more than 90 percent of the time, and the rate of error messages has been cut to less than 1 percent.
Jeff Zients, the management fixer brought in to salvage the website, said in the administration’s Sunday update that “HealthCare.gov on December 1st is night and day from where it was on October 1st.”
Americans will now see whether that’s true. Individuals have until Dec. 23 to shop for health plans that begin Jan. 1, and enrollment through the site in December was always expected to be heavier than in the first two months. While Zient says healthcare.gov can now handle 50,000 visitors at any one time, that claim “hasn’t been proven in the real world, and U.S. officials aren’t certain the site will hold up,” Bloomberg’s Alex Wayne and Alex Nussbaum report today. Also, even the stated error rate is sky-high by the standards of commercial websites, they report.
While the consumer experience may be smoother, deeper problems remain in the part of the system that talks to insurance companies. “Until the enrollment process is working from end-to-end, many consumers will not be able to enroll in coverage,” the president of the lobby known as America’s Health Insurance Plans said in a news release Friday. Insurers are still getting bad data about people trying to enroll through healthcare.gov, the New York Times reported Sunday.
One sign that more significant repairs are needed: The administration isn’t abandoning its pilot program to bypass healthcare.gov and let people enroll in subsidized coverage directly with insurance companies. This was essentially plan B if the Obamacare website couldn’t be fixed in time. Some of the software repairs in progress are meant to make direct enrollment easier for insurers, which must still use federal databases to verify whether customers are eligible for subsidies that will lower their premiums.
Further evidence of how big the mess still is: Healthcare.gov’s small business exchange has been put on hold in the triage. In a pre-Thanksgiving announcement, the White House said the federal insurance marketplace intended for companies with up to 50 employees won’t work for another year. It was originally slated to go live Oct. 1 and delayed once, until the end of November. Employers can browse among plans on the site, but they’ll need to go offline to purchase coverage through brokers or directly from insurers.
The White House’s 8-page progress report didn’t include any data on how many people have enrolled so far. What that number is on March 31, 2014—the deadline for people to purchase coverage and avoid a tax penalty next year—will be the real gauge of how the healthcare.gov rescue mission turns out.