March 10, 2014
Retooled Obamacare site traffic surges but problems persist
A surge of visitors clogged the US government's revamped healthcare insurance shopping website today, signalling that President Barack Obama's administration has a way to go in fixing the portal that showcases his signature domestic policy.
Facing its first big test since officials proclaimed over the weekend that they had met their deadline to make HealthCare.gov run smoothly for the "vast majority" of users, the site performed markedly better than it did during its disastrous launch two months ago - but was still short of the crisply running insurance marketplace Obama once touted.
By 12 p.m. ET (1700 GMT), the website had logged 375,000 visitors, the White House said, nearly half the 800,000 daily users the refurbished site is supposed to be able to handle.
In states such as New jersey, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Texas and North Carolina, the rush of traffic led to the deployment of a new feature on the site - a waiting page that said there were "a lot of visitors right now," and put people in line to be serviced, usually within minutes or even seconds.
That was viewed as significant progress for a website that has become the face of perhaps one of the biggest crises of Obama's administration, one that has undermined the Democratic president's promotion of an activist government and threatened to become a drag on Democrats in next year's elections, when control of Congress will be at stake.
But HealthCare.gov's hiccups fuelled questions about whether it will be able to enroll several million uninsured and under-insured Americans in private insurance programs by the end of March - a major goal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
More immediately, the website will be pushed further by waves of visitors seeking to sign up for insurance by December 23, the deadline to get coverage that begins January. 1.
For all of the efforts by tech specialists to improve the site, officials still are scrambling to repair and install functions on the "back end" of the Obamacare system that are needed to finalize enrollments with insurers. That could create another headache for the administration starting in January, if the enrollments for some who sign up for coverage via the website are not finalized before their coverage is supposed to begin.
"The real challenges remain, and that's downstream," said Rick Howard, research director for the technology consultant Gartner. "The real error rate will be in the billing transactions and how accurate the billing information is and how accurate the premium calculation is."
The administration said that in meetings with insurers and healthcare officials this week, it will refocus attention efforts to nail down functions for handling insurance payments, including federal subsidies for low-income consumers buying coverage under Obamacare.