Published December 23, 2016
Visitors to the government's health care website encounter fewer errors and the system now works most of the time, administration officials said Sunday in a progress report.
But they also acknowledged the rocky rollout of healthcare.gov included hundreds of software bugs, inadequate equipment and inefficient management.
The government says more than 50,000 people can log on to the website and more than 800,000 people will be able to shop for insurance coverage each day. It's a dramatic improvement from the first weeks of the system, which saw frustrated buyers watch their computer screens freeze, website crash and error messages multiply.
"The bottom line — HealthCare,.gov on December 1st is night and day from where it was on October 1st," chief White House troubleshooter Jeff Zients told reporters.
Amid all the problems with HealthCare.gov, President Barack Obama set a deadline for Saturday for several significant problems to be resolved. The administration organized a conference call with reporters Sunday morning to give a status report.
"There is more work to be done to continue to improve and enhance the website and continue to improve the consumer experience in the weeks and months ahead," the Department of Health and Human Services wrote in a memo to reporters.
The White House is hoping for a fresh start. A wave of bad publicity over the site's early failures cast a shadow over the president's chief domestic achievement.
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 Nov. 30, Dec. 1, than it worked certainly on Oct. 1." But, in trying to lower expectations, he said he could not guarantee that "100 percent of the people 100 percent 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 is up and running 95 percent of the time — meaning a 1-in-20 chance of finding a broken website remains. The government also estimated that pages crashed a rate less than once every 100 clicks.
There is no way to independently verify the administration's figures.
The nation's largest health insurer trade group said significant problems remain.
Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, said insurers have complained that enrollment data sent to them from the website include too much incorrect, duplicative, garbled or missing information. She said the problems must be cleared up to guarantee consumers the coverage they signed up for effective Jan. 1.
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.