Obama administration says deadline met for major website fixes

Baltimore mayor defends HealthCare.gov Sunday on 'Meet The Press'

December 01, 2013|By Noam Levey and Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — — The Obama administration said Sunday that it has met its deadline to fix the major problems that have hobbled the federal health care website since its disastrous debut two months ago, but officials acknowledged more repairs are necessary.

Reporting on its attempts to improve the HealthCare.gov portal, officials said that web pages on the site now load in less than a second, down from eight seconds in late October.

The system now operates more than 90 percent of the time, up from 40 percent during some weeks in October. The average rate of time-outs or other Web-page failures has dropped to less than 1 percent. It was as high as 6 percent in October.

"We have a much more reliable system," said Jeffrey Zeints, the management expert who the White House brought in to help rescue the public face of Obama's signature legislative program.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake defended President Obama's health care program Sunday as a panelist on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The panel included NBC journalists Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd and New York Times Columnist David Brooks. Todd introduced the segment talking about President Obama's recent setbacks, referring to 2013 as a "lost year" for the president.

"I think that's a bit of an overstatement, 'The lost year?' Focusing on trying to get more people affordable quality health care? In Baltimore, over 80,000 people are without health care." Rawlings-Blake said. "At the end of the day, everyone knows, we can all agree, the rollout could have been, should have been, better. But underneath all of that is Democrats and the president trying to make sure the people have health care."

Rawlings-Blake spoke as administration officials on Sunday said they had achieved their goal of getting HealthCare.gov operating smoothly but warned the website will need more fixes.

The website was launched on Oct. 1 as a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act, allowing Americans in 36 states who do not get health insurance from an employer to shop and compare health insurance policies. Residents in the other 14 states and the District of Columbia are supposed to use state-operated exchanges.

When the federal website proved balky, the administration promised to get it working for the "vast majority of users" by Nov. 30. Officials said Sunday they had achieved that target, even if the site was not error free.

Overall, HealthCare.gov now can handle 50,000 users at once, as was originally intended, officials said. The site should be able to accommodate 800,000 users a day.

Administration officials concede that the site still might not be able to handle the crush of people expected to seek insurance this month. Consumers need to select a health plan by Dec. 23 if they want coverage to begin on Jan. 1.

During peak times, some consumers may be put into a queue to gain access, according to officials.

It is unclear how effectively the site is actually processing applications. The Obama administration has refused to disclose data about the accuracy of consumer information being transmitted to insurance companies.

Sunday's progress report provided a stark reminder of how poorly HealthCare.gov was functioning at the start.

"Inadequate management oversight and coordination among technical teams prevented real-time decision making and efficient responses to address the issues with the site," the Department of Health and Human Services wrote in the report.

Appearing on Sunday talk shows, Republican lawmakers continued to blast the health care bill, but signaled that they were willing to let the White House absorb the political damage rather than try again to repeal the law.

"I don't know how you fix the many fundamental problems of this program," said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) suggested the problems should leave Americans wary of trusting other White House initiatives, including Obama's push to overhaul immigration laws.

"On POTUS's calls for immigration reform, if ppl can't trust O-care promises how can they have confidence this will work as advertised," Cornyn said in a tweet.

Democrats expressed concern that the troubled rollout has clouded the goal of providing care to uninsured Americans, and has created a political drag on the White House — at least for now.

"I think the president can right this ship," Howard Dean, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, told CNN's "State of the Union."

If the website works, he added, "three months from now, a huge number of people who didn't have health insurance are going to have it, and mostly at a better price. I think that's the proof in the pudding."

Baltimore Sun reporter Jacques Kelly contributed to this article.

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