White House Claims Victory in HealthCare.gov Repairs Deadline (But Lots of Challenges Remain)

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 1 2013 10:16 AM

White House Claims Victory in HealthCare.gov Repairs Deadline (But Lots of Challenges Remain)

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Mercy Cabrera, an insurance agent with Sunshine Life and Health Advisors, speaks on the phone as she helps a person with information about an insurance policy

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Obama administration is claiming victory. The White House said Sunday morning that it had managed to meet its self-imposed deadline to dramtically improve the online federal insurance exchange that is at the backbone of Obamacare. “While we strive to innovate and improve our outreach and systems for reaching consumers, we believe we have met the goal of having a system that will work smoothly for the vast majority of users,” a Health and Human Services report released Sunday said.

Even as the White House celebrated that it met a deadline President Obama had imposed to have the most significant problems resolved, the administration also had to acknowledge the website was poorly rolled out and was teeming with software bugs, notes the Associated Press. The five-week “tech surge” involved more than 400 bug fixes and software improvements.

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"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. But even as Zients insisted the administration has hit its goal of making the site work smoothly for most users, he acknowledged more work is needed, reports Politico.  

The administration says more than 50,000 people can log on to the website at once, meaning that more than 800,000 people will be able to shop for insurance coverage daily. That is a vast improvement for a website that was once crippled by as few as 500 users, according to the New York Times. The site will also be online more than 90 percent of the time, not including scheduled maintenance downtime, and the rate of error messages has declined from 6 percent to less than 1 percent, according to the White House. In addition, the wait time for the site’s pages to load has dropped from eight seconds to less than one second.

Yet it’s unclear whether the administration’s claims are truly accurate. Officials have left themselves some wiggle room at least by refusing to declare that all of the website’s bugs have been eliminated. Contractors on Saturday night largely agreed the software and hardware upgrades improved the website’s performance, but cautioned it won’t be clear whether it can actually handle 50,000 simultaneous users until more people log in and try to buy insurance, reports the Wall Street Journal. Regardless, the website still faces technical problems in verifying identities of users and transmitting enrollment data to insurers.

There will be lots of scrutiny on the site, which serves consumers in 36 states that don’t have a state-specific marketplace, in the coming weeks, highlights Reuters. Consumers who want insurance on January 1 must sign up by December 23 and Republican lawmakers are surely ready to pounce on any continuing trouble with the site to argue against the Affordable Care Act.

For those looking for a detailed, blow-by-blow account of how we got here, the New York Times publishes a 5,161-word piece that looks at the White House’s “frantic effort aimed at rescuing not only the insurance portal and Mr. Obama’s credibility, but also the Democratic philosophy that an activist government can solve big, complex social problems.”

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.