More than 800,000 visitors gave the hobbled Obamacare website another chance as the government continued to work on software repairs, including a fix to the system that sends customer data to insurers.
The rush yesterday to healthcare.gov followed a Dec. 1 report saying that six weeks of work had improved its use for most consumers. The administration also said yesterday it would name a new chief to run the U.S. exchange after Jeffrey Zients, who has overseen repairs of the online marketplace, becomes the president’s chief economic adviser in January.
The website’s software initially prevented Social Security numbers from being included in data sent to insurers, blocking complete enrollments in health plans. A fix announced yesterday will end 80 percent of those errors, said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Bataille wouldn’t say when the bug was discovered, and insurers didn’t immediately report improvement in the data.
“We believe that we have fixed the largest percentage of issues that were causing concerns” with the federal website’s communication with insurers, Bataille said yesterday on a conference call. Still, “we do know that things are not perfect with the site.”
Federal officials said they are continuing to work on improvements for the U.S. website that serves 36 states. Fourteen states have their own health marketplaces. Zients, meanwhile, is scheduled to begin his main job as President Barack Obama’s chief economic adviser “early next year,” when a successor will take over as the public face of the federal exchange, White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday.
“We have seen in the way that Jeff has worked in that role, that, that kind of management position needs to be filled even after he comes over to the White House,” Carney said.
Carney said he didn’t know how the “structure” of the position may change after Zients leaves. Obama allies outside the White House including Ezekiel Emanuel, who advised him during debate on the health-care law, have said the president should name a chief executive officer to lead the federal health insurance exchange.
Healthcare.gov was designed to help uninsured Americans buy new health plans by March 31, as required under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare. While 106,185 people were able to select private plans through the federal and state exchanges last month, almost 1 million more abandoned the application process before choosing a plan amid website outages and software problems.
Obama’s inner circle seized more day-to-day control of the project and began making repairs. The government said in a Dec. 1 report that it had met its goals for repairs to the site, and that most Americans who use it should be able to successfully enroll in health plans.
It wasn’t immediately clear if that was true.
About 100,000 people were able to select plans using the federal system in November, while it was under repair, according to a personal familiar with the project. The administration said it would release official enrollment data monthly, so sign-ups in December aren’t expected to be reported until the middle of January.
Traffic at the site yesterday was “on pace” to exceed 800,000 users, its upgraded capacity after six weeks of repairs, Bataille said. That caused technicians to deploy a new queuing system from about 10 a.m. New York time that prevents too many people from trying to enroll at the same time.
The queuing system, which appeared to be operating intermittently through the day, restricts use of the site to fewer than 50,000 people at the same time.
Yesterday’s error rate of 0.9 percent per page still means users may have encountered problems in clicking through multiple pages to enroll in a health plan.
It also wasn’t clear if insurers were getting better data as a result of the government’s effort. Each night, healthcare.gov is supposed to send a batch of new enrollments to the insurers. While these so-called 834 files have long been an industry standard in the private sector, the ones sent previously from the Obamacare exchange were often missing data or corrupted to the point that they couldn’t be opened.
Bataille told reporters she had no information about what percentage of 834 transactions are erroneous or how many transmissions the federal enrollment system had made.
“Health plans continue to experience significant problems with the ‘834’ enrollment files,” Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s Washington-based lobby group, said in an e-mail.
–With assistance from Alex Nussbaum in New York and Julianna Goldman in Washington. Editors: Romaine Bostick, Andrew Pollack