WASHINGTON Dec 1 Two months after Obamacare's
disastrous launch, senior administration officials on Sunday
will seek to showcase the repairs to the government's troubled
website meant to sign up millions of people who need subsidized
President Barack Obama's specially appointed adviser,
Jeffrey Zients, is expected to describe the results of a
five-week emergency effort aimed at making the federal
HealthCare.gov website more accessible to users, more responsive
and less prone to errors, according to officials.
"We will be providing an update on the progress made to
date, so that the website works smoothly for the vast majority
of users, including updated data on capacity, response time and
error rate," said an administration official who spoke on
condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak
publicly about the effort.
The administration's weekend deadline could mark a new
chapter for Obama's signature domestic policy if HealthCare.gov
has improved well enough to handle millions of potential
applications for health coverage from the uninsured as well as
others whose current insurance policies face cancellation at the
end of the year.
But a repeat of the Oct 1. launch, when the site crashed as
millions of visitors flooded in, could leave hundreds of
thousands of people without coverage and deal a staggering
political blow to the president's legacy and the 2014 election
prospects of congressional Democrats.
Basic account creation and log-in functions appeared to work
smoothly on Saturday, the deadline set by Zients, but groups
helping the sign-up effort described other errors in the
process. Health insurance companies warned much work remained to
allow seamless enrollment.
HealthCare.gov will face increasing pressure in the days and
weeks to come, as consumers who want benefits in time for the
new year have a Dec. 23 deadline to sign up. Republican
lawmakers, due back in Washington from a holiday weekend, are
prepared to seize on any new technical woes as they campaign to
derail the law.
Zients is due to host a teleconference with reporters at 9
a.m. ET (1400 GMT), just hours after government contractors are
expected to complete the latest batch of fixes. The
administration's goal is to handle 50,000 users simultaneously,
or about 800,000 visitors a day.
Administration officials say HealthCare.gov, which serves
consumers in 36 states, will continue to be prone to outages and
delays and predict that fixes will continue for months.
As late as midday ET (1700 GMT) on Saturday, officials were
still describing 50,000 simultaneous users as a goal they were
making progress toward and said upgrades overnight on Friday,
followed by hardware and software fixes early on Sunday, would
put the administration on track to achieve intended capacity.
ENOUGH TIME TO ENROLL?
The Obama administration had hoped to enroll about 7 million
people in 2014 under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care
Act, also known as Obamacare. Many of those consumers are
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.
"There's still plenty of time to reach people who are now
uninsured, and especially the young and healthy who are key to
keeping the insurance market stable," said Larry Levitt, a
senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But groups helping consumers navigate the site said some
problems continued over the weekend that suggested deeper
In Pennsylvania, Ted Trevorrow works for a nonprofit group
called Resources for Human Development. He tried to help a man
on Saturday who created two applications because of technical
snafus - one by phone, and one online - and cannot access either
"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."
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.
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
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washingtion and
Sharon Begley in New York; Editing by Eric Walsh)