The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

December 2, 2013

Officials: Worst tech bugs over for Healthcare.gov

WASHINGTON — The worst of the online glitches, crashes and delays may be over for the problem-plagued government health care website, the Department of Health and Human Services said Sunday.

But that doesn’t mean HealthCare.gov is ready for a clean bill of health.

Officials acknowledged more work remains 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 Dec. 1 is night and day from where it was on Oct. 1,” Jeff Zients told reporters.

More than 50,000 people can log on to the website at one time and more than 800,000 people 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.

The figures — which could not be independently verified — suggest millions of Americans could turn to their laptops to shop for and buy insurance policies by the Dec. 23 deadline.

“There’s not really any way to verify from the outside that the vast majority of people who want to enroll can now do so, but we’ll find out at least anecdotally over the coming days if the system can handle the traffic and provide a smooth experience for people trying to sign up,” said Larry Levitt, a senior adviser at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But, he added, HealthCare.gov is clearly working better than when it first went online. Its challenge now is to convince users who were frustrated during their first visit to give it another chance.

Politically, a fixed website could also offer a fresh start for President Barack 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 Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat who is a co-chairman of the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus. “And we’re only going to be working out more kinks as we go forward.”

HealthCare.gov was envisioned as the principal place for people in 36 states to buy insurance under Obama’s health care law. But its first few weeks were an embarrassment for the administration and its allies.

Obama set Saturday as the deadline to fix several significant problems and the administration organized a conference call with reporters Sunday morning to boast that 400 technical problems had been resolved.

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.

The first big test of the repaired website probably won’t come for a few more weeks, when an enrollment surge is expected as consumers rush to meet a Dec. 23 deadline so their coverage can kick in on the first of the year.

Avoiding a break in coverage is particularly important for millions of people whose current individual policies were canceled because they don’t meet the standards of the health care law, as well as for a group of about 100,000 in an expiring federal program for high-risk patients.

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