Technologically battered and politically bruised, the online sign-up procedure for the Affordable Care Act faces a major deadline this weekend.
By Nov. 30, the Obama administration has been telling the world, HealthCare.gov would “work smoothly” for the “vast majority” of Americans trying to sign up for new health insurance under Obamacare.
“Work smoothly” and “vast majority” are open to interpretation, of course. And you can bet that when the Thanksgiving weekend feasting/football/shopping frenzy winds down, the media and Obamacare critics will be checking out the predictions of progress.
At the moment, the first thing one saw at HealthCare.gov early Saturday morning was this notice:
“The Health Insurance Marketplace online application isn't available from approximately 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. EST daily while we make improvements. Additional down times may be possible as we work to make things better. The rest of the site and the Marketplace call center remain available during these hours.”
The challenge will be handling the expected surge in applications as the March 31, 2014, deadline for enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace approaches, so you can see why the computer wizards at HealthCare.gov are working round-the-clock. The goal now is to handle 50,000 applicants at once and more than 800,000 a day.
"With the scheduled upgrades last night and tonight, we're on track to meet our stated goal for the site to work for the vast majority of users," Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokesman Aaron Albright told Fox News, in a statement.
Perceptions are important here. It didn’t help the day before Thanksgiving when officials had to announce a one-year delay – until November 2014 – in when small businesses could shop online for health-insurance coverage.
The initial roll-out problems, and now this latest hitch, leave many questions unanswered.
It’s one thing to enroll. But having the system actually connect individuals with insurance providers, and then make sure coverage is established and paid for involves several more important steps with the potential for glitches.
"The real tests are: Were my premium payment and subsidy accurately calculated? Am I getting the coverage I signed up for? If my income situation changes, will the reconciliation occur in a timely fashion?" Rick Howard, a research director at technology consultant Gartner, told Reuters.
In an interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters broadcast Friday night, President Obama tried to put a positive spin on two months of rough news about his signature legislative accomplishment.
“The good thing about when you're down is that usually you got nowhere to go but up,” he said. But Obama also said he is still confident the Affordable Care Act was a good idea.
"I continue to believe and [I'm] absolutely convinced that at the end of the day, people are going to look back at the work we've done to make sure that in this country, you don't go bankrupt when you get sick, that families have that security," Obama told Ms. Walters.
There has been evidence of some success in micromanaging the traffic flow, the Huffington Post reports.
According to a 39-page ‘recess toolkit’ put together by the White House for Democrats in Congress, the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services was able to invite back, in clusters, nearly 275,000 consumers who had problems during the account creation process in early October. Of those who returned to the site, 92 percent successfully created an account on HealthCare.gov, according to this report.
In the “war room” set up to repair Obamacare, officials say they’ve fixed more than 300 bugs so far. But they also know that more are likely to appear.
“You continue to find glitches and bugs, and you inevitably continue to upgrade on the hardware front,” chief repairman Jeffrey Zients told reporters this week. “But we have rapid-response teams on all those efforts, and as additional problems come up we’ll jump on them and fix them.”