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Will Obamacare get its act together in time?

HealthCare.gov, which under Obamacare is the federally run exchange for 36 states, is still overwhelmed four days after going live. It will undergo 'scheduled maintenance' this weekend, officials announced late Friday.

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What’s more, all this is happening under the klieg lights of intense media scrutiny, plus the political pressure of conservatives looking for any sign that Obamacare is a failure.

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Liberal groups – and the Obama administration – are trying to build a competing narrative: that the problems, which are being addressed, are a result of the massive public demand for affordable health insurance.

“There are separate issues, enrollment and optics,” says Caroline Pearson, vice president of Avalere Health, a health-care consulting firm. “I think they’ve got till early November” to get the sites running smoothly so people can enroll by Dec. 15.

Ms. Pearson expects the people who are trying to enroll now will keep trying until they succeed, since they are probably the most motivated customers. But on the “optics” front, it’s the less-motivated people – the ones who aren’t happy about the mandate and perhaps tempted just to pay the fine and not buy insurance – who may be turned off by the bad press around the rollout.

Anyone, for example, who sees even just the headline on Friday’s Wonkbook column in The Washington Post by the reliably liberal Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas would be taken aback: “Obamacare’s Web site is really bad.” Not only was the site not close to ready for the level of traffic it’s been getting, it’s “badly coded,” Messrs. Klein and Soltas say, citing software designers.

“The good news for Obamacare is that lots of people want to sign up,” they write. But “the fact that the traffic is good news for the law doesn't obviate the fact that the site's inability to absorb that traffic is bad news for the law.”

The folks at Avalere Health created accounts at HealthCare.gov before Oct. 1, but still can’t log in.

“We’ve been trying all week,” says Pearson. “But there have been signs of progress. We can get further into the log-in process each day. But the issue is, you have to create an account before you can access the data and shop. That’s the part that seems not to be functioning and where we get stuck.”

Johnson, the dean at Vanderbilt’s business school, says the Obama administration needed a better communication plan, given all the curiosity and pent-up demand. He suspects a lot of people on the site are just looking for information and trying to understand how much the various plans would cost them.

“Had they been able to do a ‘soft roll’ – a rollout that allowed people to see some more of the information in the first week or two before making decisions – that would have helped dramatically,” Johnson says. "It becomes bigger than life, because it’s received so much media attention, and yet so few details were available other than this big bang approach.”

Not all the headlines have been terrible. A “review” of HealthCare.gov in Thursday’s USA Today calls the site “a winner despite the glitches.”

The writer, Tim Mullaney, praises the simplicity of the writing and intuitive placement of information. He also gives the core product a thumbs-up: The site offers a choice of cheap, affordable plans.

“Any e-commerce veteran can tell you: If a start-up’s business proposition is sound and it delivers what it promises, it survives early days when websites crash and chaos reigns,”  Mr. Mullaney writes.

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