Healthcare.gov Reports Progress, Overlooks Lingering Problems

The government released a cheery progress report on healthcare.gov on Sunday, but problems remain.

This photo of part of the HealthCare.gov website is photographed in Washington, on Nov. 29, 2013.

For two months, the White House and the president have been forced to apologize for promoting the website, healthcare.gov, that was riddled with problems and overwhelmed by volume.

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On Sunday, the healthcare.gov website announced it can now effectively accommodate 50,000 users at once or 800,000 users a day, The report was released by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

"While we still have work to do, we've made significant progress with healthcare.gov working for the vast majority of consumers," Jeffrey Zients, the former Obama administration official who oversees the repair of the website, told reporters Sunday.

This news contrasts greatly with the agency's self-described "unacceptable user experience" in October. For several weeks consumers saw not only slow response times and bizarre error messages, but the site was also down 60 percent of the time.

[READ: HHS: 106,185 Have Signed Up for Obamacare So Far]

The new report explained that a group of hired consultants based in Maryland, Quality Software Services Incorporated (QSSI), have fixed more than 400 bugs in the systems and increased the site's stability. The consultants reduced the website's error rate to below 1 percent and response times to less than 1 second.

While these fixes appear positive, critics believe it's too early to celebrate the site's success. The front-end of the site appears to be fully functional, but Conor Friedersdorf, a staff writer for The Atlantic, worries that the back-end of the website, the portion responsible for delivering consumer data to the insurance companies is still dysfunctional. For consumers this could mean that the enrollment data insurers receive is inaccurate, if consumers are enrolled at all. Friedersdorf said the CMS may be offering false hope if it only touts its front-end improvements as a success, but neglects to provide information on the website's back-end issues.

"When the Obama administration states that the site 'will work smoothly for the vast majority of users,' do they mean that it will successfully transmit their applications to insurers, resulting in their actually being covered?" asked Friedersdorf. He said he remains "pessimistic."

The New York Times offers a visual explainer of healthcare.gov system's glitches and the government's "attempted fixes" by way of this interactive graphic, "How Healthcare.gov was supposed to work and how it didn't."

[READ: Obamacare Medicare Part D Works, But Critics Call Plan Wasteful]

 

The Times' visual underscores one of the glitches also addressed in The Atlantic article, that insurers have received enrollment files that are "incomplete or inaccurate." Without the correct information insurers cannot discern the identity of the consumer or the subsidies available to him or her. "Some insurers say they have been deluged with phone calls from people who believe they have signed up for a particular health plan, only to find that the company has no record of the enrollment," said The Times.

Critics and insurance providers alike are also concerned that parts of the back-end, including the billing infrastructure that would pay subsidies, has yet to be constructed.

The efficacy of the site is crucial to enrolling consumers before the government's Dec. 23 deadline. Both the positive reports and critiques will be weighed against real and hopefully comprehensive data on Dec. 15, when the government releases enrollment numbers for the federally-run health insurance exchanges.

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