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White House Declares Tentative Victory Over HealthCare.gov Woes

Jon Elswick/AP

The Obama administration has met a self-imposed deadline to bring Healthcare.gov, its glitch-ridden online health insurance marketplace, into working order for the majority of users by the end of November, according to an administration report released on Sunday.

As of the morning of Dec. 1, the site was able to handle 50,000 simultaneous users with Web pages taking less than one second on average to respond to a user request, according to a notice from the Health and Human Services Department. That’s compared to response times of about 8 seconds when the site first launched.

“The bottom line: HealthCare.gov on December 1st is night and day from where it was on October 1st,” said Jeffrey Zients, the White House official conscripted to lead the HealthCare.gov fix, in an HHS blog post.

The administration outlined the fixes in greater detail in a progress report also posted on Sunday.

The average error rate for HealthCare.gov visitors is now less than 1 percent, down from about 6 percent in mid-October, the administration said. The average uptime for the site this past week was 95 percent, compared with about 43 percent during the first six weeks the site was online, officials said.

The administration credited the drastically lowered downtime to more than 400 bug fixes, 12 new servers, continuous monitoring systems and a new management structure that can typically resolve glitches within an hour compared to several hours or more when the site first launched.

After HealthCare.gov suffered a disastrous Oct. 1 launch that frustrated millions of users and kept the vast majority of site visitors from enrolling in new insurance programs, President Obama pledged the site would be working properly for the vast majority of users by the end of November. That deadline would give uninsured citizens or people who were losing or planning to switch from their old policies enough time to purchase new insurance before a Jan. 1 deadline.

Since then, Obama has delayed several enrollment deadlines, including for small businesses, but has not rolled back the mandate for individuals to purchase insurance, a hallmark of the president's landmark healthcare reform law.

Some experts fear the site’s poor performance during its first two months will push younger and healthier consumers to pay a penalty rather than purchase insurance through the site, raising the cost of premiums for people who do enroll in the program to an unsustainable level.

“Now, to be clear, there likely will be times that even with this increased capacity will be insufficient to handle peaks in simultaneous demand,” Zients said. “So to prepare for those times when spikes in user volume outstrip the systems’ expanded capacity, we will deploy a new queuing system to serve consumers in an orderly fashion.”

That queuing system will send site visitors an email notifying them when it’s a better time to return to the site.   

Software engineers led by the site’s new lead contractor, QSSI, worked down to the wire on the HealthCare.gov fixes, the administration said, including a major new upgrade on Friday. 

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