Today is the self-imposed deadline the Obama Administration gave to fix the healthcare.gov website experience for the “vast majority of users,” so the media and Republicans are expected to comb through every detail on the site, eager to report any glitches.
As of today, the stakes could not be higher for Obama‘s signature legislative accomplishment. accomplishment.
“If you bring this all together–private sector speed and execution; the command center. . . with real-time monitoring; troubleshooting when things go wrong, and overall coordination and direction; a hardware-upgrade team, and then a software-fix team–what’s happened is the site has gotten better and better each week, as we’ve talked about,” Jeffrey Zients, who is leading the healthcare.org overhaul, said in a conference call with reporters this week. “And we are confident that we’re on track to achieve our goal to make HealthCare.gov operate smoothly for the vast majority of users by the end of the month.”
A visit to the site by this reporter revealed that it is far faster and more efficient than it was upon its rollout at the beginning of October, when every step in the signup process was riddled with multiple user errors and interminable waits. Those problems are gone now and the user experience rivals that at any major retail site.
As Zients indicated, it’s all about capacity. Administration officials said the website should now be able to handle as many as 50,000 users at a time, and more than 800,000 visits a day. Those visitors in excess of 50,000 will have to wait for access. But even the waiting process should be improved, according to Zients, who described it as “a customer-friendly queuing system which would notify you when to come back to the site and sort of be first in line.”
Officials have estimated that the site should function smoothly for at least 80 percent of users.
“There will be moments, and they’re most likely in the middle of the day, where. . . demand will be greater than that capacity,” Zients said. “As more and more users come to the site, the site is more stretched at current capacity–which is a good sign, meaning users are coming and users are going all the way through the process, all the way through enrollment. So we need to increase the capacity to handle the additional users.”
Most of the remaining work involves the backend of the website, such as in the development of the process for coordinating payments and applicant information with insurance companies.
“That work is actively happening now, and I would describe it as backend functionality, meaning it’s not consumer-facing, but it is things that we need to have in place in order to help process some of the issuer payments,” Julie Bataille, the director of communications at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told reporters. “And we are on track to have that work done.”
The administration has said backend functionality will be done by mid-January 2014.
But there continue to be problems with the rollout, as demonstrated by the administration’s announcement on Wednesday that it would be delaying by one year the enrollment period for small businesses to sign up employees. This is one of many delays the administration has had to impose over the last two months.
Obama was asked about his plunging popularity during an interview with Barbara Walters of ABC and he laughed it off, joking, “The good thing about when you’re down is that usually, you’ve got nowhere to go but up.”
She asked him about getting booed at a basketball game. The First Lady interjected, “It’s part of the job,” and said she’s gotten booed as well.
The White House has beefed up its media offensive this time around. It prepared a 39-page “recess toolkit” for Democrats on the Hill to use sharing the site’s positive news. Obtained by The Huffington Post, the document includes the fact that the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services was able to invite back nearly 275,000 consumers who had problems during the account creation process in early October and 92 percent of them successfully created an account on HealthCare.gov.
In an effort to appeal to 18-to-35-year-olds, the White House next week will be holding a youth summit for young leaders to explain to them the benefits of the health care law so they can get the word out among their peers.
The administration is using athletes and celebrities to get more youth to sign up.
The White House is also sending Democrats in Congress home for the Thanksgiving recess with a 54-page packet of Affordable Care Act sign-up “success stories,” broken down by all 50 states. The administration is also touting a report released by the White House Council of Economic Advisors showing how Obamacare is helping the economy by slowing healthcare costs.
But there is still widespread unhappiness in the Democratic party.
“The website is getting better but it’s not fixed,” one Democratic lawmaker told the Huffington Post. “Don’t even get me started on talking points. They should use the time they spend writing useless talking points fixing the website.”
The White House has pointed out that the government was shut down during the initial rollout on October 1, meaning that everyone who would have assisted the administration in countering the negative news reports were all furloughed.
“The shutdown wasn’t the root cause of the problem,” one administration official told HuffPost, “but it sure as hell didn’t help.”