UPDATE 3-Obamacare website enters critical phase, unclear if fixes are enough

Sat Nov 30, 2013 6:58pm EST

By Sharon Begley and Roberta Rampton

Nov 30 (Reuters) - The rollout of President Barack Obama's healthcare law entered a critical phase on Saturday, the deadline for substantially fixing the program's troubled enrollment website, as the administration scrambled to address the most obvious glitches.

The White House, facing mounting pressure from Republican opponents and members of Obama's Democratic party, promised five weeks ago that by Nov. 30 it would repair HealthCare.gov. The site was designed to help people sign up for medical coverage but has been plagued by errors, outages, and slow speeds since a disastrous Oct. 1 launch.

Basic account creation and log-in functions appeared to work smoothly on Saturday, but groups helping the sign-up effort described other errors in the process. The site's ability to handle target traffic loads of 50,000 users or more at the same time will be tested in the coming days. A website shutdown to accommodate new fixes was set for early Sunday.

HealthCare.gov is a key portal for Obama's signature domestic achievement, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which aims to extend coverage to millions of people and reduce healthcare costs.

Making Obamacare work has enormous political stakes for the administration and its Democratic allies who are heading into congressional elections next year. If the site does not work smoothly for the "vast majority of users" in the next three weeks as promised, it could jeopardize access for hundreds of thousands of potential applicants in time for Jan. 1.

Health insurance companies, whose plans in 36 states are featured on HealthCare.gov, said significant problems remain, particularly in the "back end" where enrollment is confirmed and payment is made.

"Until the enrollment process is working from end-to-end, many consumers will not be able to enroll in coverage," said Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, a lobby group.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency responsible for the website, said it was performing well on Saturday "despite heavier than usual weekend traffic," although it did not release any data.

New hardware upgrades and software fixes are slated for 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. ET (0600-1100 GMT) on Sunday, and follow an unusually long 11-hour shutdown overnight on Friday.

Jeffrey Zients, the Obama aide tasked with leading the rescue mission, was set to brief reporters on the site's progress at 9 a.m. ET (1400 GMT) on Sunday.

LOOMING DEADLINES

The Obama administration had hoped to enroll about 7 million people in 2014 under the new law, with many of those consumers expected to qualify for subsidies.

To work, the program must get millions of young, healthy consumers to sign up by March 31. Their participation is key to keeping the program's costs in check. But an initial deadline of Dec. 23 already looms for people who want benefits to start with the New Year.

"The priority between now and the end of the year is to make sure that people who have had their policies canceled can get into a new plan and avoid any kind of gap in coverage," said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In Pennsylvania, Ted Trevorrow described errors that he said show problems deep inside HealthCare.gov.

Trevorrow, who works for a nonprofit group called Resources for Human Development, tried to help a man on Saturday who has created two applications because of technical snafus - one by phone, and one online - and cannot access either of them.

"He ran into some sort of technical glitch, and now it will require the intervention of a programmer," Trevorrow said.

Another client hit an inexplicable wall in the subsidy eligibility process. "The system just stopped and wouldn't go any further," said Trevorrow. "It just plain doesn't work and it needs to be fixed."

With Republican lawmakers busy in their districts on the holiday weekend, political reaction on Saturday was muted. But that is expected to change after the holiday when they return to Washington and as more Americans check out the website.

Republicans have argued that Obamacare is fatally flawed and should be scrapped, and have brandished stories of Americans who are unhappy with losing old health plans or seeing higher costs for new ones.

"Americans are far less concerned about a website than they are about the availability and affordability of their health care," said Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the U.S. Senate, in a statement.

Another website meltdown could create ripples that extend to the 2014 elections when control of the U.S. House of Representatives, now dominated by Republicans, and the Senate, where Democrats have a majority, will be up for grabs.

HARD TO VERIFY

The administration said on Saturday that 90 percent of website users can now create an account on the system - a statistic that some information technology experts said sounded rosy but was impossible to verify.

"It prevents anyone from the outside from contradicting them," said Jonathan Wu, co-founder of the consumer financial website ValuePenguin.

There is little insight on how well the website works when it verifies identities and calculates subsidies for those whose income falls below 400 percent of the poverty level.

Navigator groups - those tasked with helping people sign up for new medical benefits - said they saw only a trickle of would-be applicants on Saturday.

In McAllen, Texas, the group MHP (Migrant Health Promotion) found that the website - while improved - still has glitches, particularly at the later stages of the process where subsidies are calculated, said Rachel Udow, who oversees the program.

"That was a barrier to paying the first month's premium," she said.

Officials have been careful in recent weeks to say that the overhauled HealthCare.gov won't work for everyone. They expect that 20 percent of people will apply by phone, mail or in person because they need extra help or face technical errors.

The 14 states that have their own websites, many of which have performed better, may also struggle with a surge in demand ahead of the December sign-up deadline. The Washington Health Benefit Exchange, one of the most successful marketplaces, experienced unexpected problems during an upgrade overnight on Friday, shutting down its system until some time on Sunday.

Maryland Health Connection, which had early struggles with technical problems, also said it would be down for scheduled maintenance from late Saturday night until Monday morning.

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Comments (5)
CommieAxelrod wrote:
Top Ten Democrat /\SS-H0LES Responsible for the ObamaCare DISASTER:

► SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D-LA): “If you like the insurance that you have, you’ll be able to keep it.” —– Mary Landrieu, like all Senate Democrats, provided the deciding vote on passing ObamaCare. After 3 years, it is hard to remember all the parliamentary tricks the Democrats used to pass a bill that almost none of them had read. Landrieu, who is up for reelection next year, lied on TV. She should apologize.

► SEN. KAY HAGAN (D-NC): “We need to support the private insurance industry so that people who have insurance they’re happy with can keep it while also providing a backstop option for people without access to affordable coverage.” —– 160,000 residents of North Carolina has lost their health coverage. Sen. Hagan has been most aggressive in trying to separate herself from ObamaCare. No wonder, since even a Democrat poll has found her now in a statistical tie with any of her possible Republican challengers. In September, Hagan held a 12-17 point lead. She is up for reelection next year and should apologize.

► SEN. MARK BEGICH (D-AK): “If you got a doctor now, you got a medical professional you want, you get to keep that. If you have an insurance program or a health care policy you want of ideas, make sure you keep it. That you can keep who you want.” —– Begich won his Senate seat in 2008, after DOJ staffers trumped up false charges against the sitting GOP Senator Ted Stevens. Begich is running for reelection in Alaska, without the Obama wave and without a mythical DOJ investigation. He should apologize.

► SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO): “We should begin with a basic principle: if you have coverage and you like it, you can keep it. If you have your doctor, and you like him or her, you should be able to keep them as well. We will not take that choice away from you.” —– Sen. Bennet heads to DSCC, the party arm to elect Democrats to the US Senate. He will have an outsized role in races across the country. He said his position on ObamaCare was based on a “basic principle.” He should apologize.

► SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA): “Again, if you like what you have, you will be able to keep it. Let me say this again: If you like what you have, when our legislation is passed and signed by the President, you will be able to keep it.” —– Let me say this again, as a senior member, and now Chair of the Budget Committee, Sen. Murray was in a position to know that these claims were false. She won her first race for Senate campaigning as a “soccer mom” in “tennis shoes.” Insert your own joke. 290,000 residents of Washington have lost their health insurance. She should apologize.

► SEN. TOM HARKIN (D-IA): “One of the things we put in the health care bill when we designed it was the protection for consumers to keep the plan they have if they like it; thus, the term ‘grandfathered plans.’ If you have a plan you like –existing policies–you can keep them. …we said, if you like a plan, you get to keep it, and you can grandfather it in.” —– Sen. Harkin has long been a slippery politician. As Chair of the Health Committee in the Senate, Harkin would have had more intimate knowledge of ObamaCare than most other lawmakers. His yowler here is he tries to claim that the “put in” language to ensure people could keep the plan they like. That is a sin of commission. Harkin, who is retiring, should absolutely apologize.

► SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): “If you like your insurance, you keep it.” —– Schumer, who was in a position to know the inner-workings of the law seems to have lied. Asking him for an apology, though, is like asking Anthony Weiner to become modestly self-aware. Still, he should apologize.

► SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): “This bill before us on the Senate floor makes it clear that if you have an insurance policy that you like, you can keep it. If you like the doctor that you’re currently doing business with, you can continue to use that doctor.” —– Durbin is the number two Democrat in the Senate, amazingly. He seems preternaturally disposed to obscuring the truth. He actually said the legislation “makes it clear” that you can keep your insurance. He either can’t read legislation or he was intentionally misleading the public. In any event, he should apologize.

► SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV):“In fact, one of our core principles is that if you like the health care you have, you can keep it.” —– Core principles, apparently, aren’t what they used to be. Sen. Reid emptied out the parliamentary cupboard to get ObamaCare passed. As Majority Leader, he had to have a keen understanding of what was in the bill and what the consequences would be. The White House, at the time, was aware of the fact that many Americans would lose their health insurance. Surely, Sen. Reid was privy to the same information. He should apologize.

And, the #1 Senate Democrat who should apologize…

► SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D-MT): “That is why one of the central promises of health care reform has been and is: If you like what you have, you can keep it. That is critically important. If a person has a plan, and he or she likes it, he or she can keep it.” —– Sen. Baucus wrote most of the bill that became ObamaCare. He has been steeped in health care policy for decades. He was in a position to know, and had to know, that the “central promise” that people could keep their current health care coverage was a lie. He should apologize, but unfortunately, he has chosen to retire rather than face the voters. Adios /\SS-H0LE!

Nov 30, 2013 3:44pm EST  --  Report as abuse
bradk77 wrote:
Tried to help GF enroll this morning about 630am MST. She was able to set up an account, verify identity and qualify for a subsidy. That is as far as we got. She was unable to look at any plans – let alone choose one. The button that says “select a health plan 1″ is locked. It even shows a little locked icon and says “locked”. I tried just a few seconds ago and it is still locked.

She really needs to enroll. Her big box employers has her down to 28 hours per week and she is counting on healthcare.gov to finally get some insurance. Hopefully it will work soon so she can enroll for January 1st. Not looking good. It is certainly not fix for us.

Nov 30, 2013 3:52pm EST  --  Report as abuse
bradk77 wrote:
Tried to help GF enroll this morning about 630am MST. She was able to set up an account, verify identity and qualify for a subsidy. That is as far as we got. She was unable to look at any plans – let alone choose one. The button that says “select a health plan 1″ is locked. It even shows a little locked icon and says “locked”. I tried just a few seconds ago and it is still locked.

She really needs to enroll. Her big box employers has her down to 28 hours per week and she is counting on healthcare.gov to finally get some insurance. Hopefully it will work soon so she can enroll for January 1st. Not looking good. It is certainly not fix for us.

Nov 30, 2013 3:52pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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