Feds release progress report on Obamacare website | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Feds release progress report on Obamacare website

Posted By on Sun, Dec 1, 2013 at 9:00 AM

It's Vast Majority Sunday! Today is the Obama administration's self-imposed deadline that healthcare.gov, the federally run website used by 36 states for the new marketplaces created by Obamacare, will work smoothly for the "vast majority" of consumers. 

You can see today's progress report from the federal Department of Health and Human Services here. The feds state that, "While we strive to innovate and improve our outreach and systems for reaching consumers, we believe we have met the goal of having a system that will work smoothly for the vast majority of users."

The site is clearly working much better — response time is faster, error rates are lower, system stability is improved, and the system capacity is higher. The typical consumer that logged on to the site on the launch date on October 1 got nowhere; now the typical consumer can log on and go through the process relatively smoothly. (As Ezra Klein has noted, there's no way to immediately test whether the site works for 80 percent of consumers, the administration's definition of "vast majority"; expect the anecdote wars to continue on both sides either way.) The site can now handle 50,000 users at a time. Based on usage trends, that administration estimates that means the site can support more than 800,000 consumer visits per day. 

All of that is good news, and the administration has dodged the worst-case scenarios (the underlying digital architecture of the site is workable, so they won't have to scrap the site and start over). But that still leaves lots of open questions. Two big ones: whether the site will be able to handle an expected surge of users this month and whether errors on the back-end will lead to chaos in the enrollment process even if consumers believe they have signed up without a glitch. For all of the spinning and shouting we'll continue to hear, the near-term fate of Obamacare — both the policy and the politics — will largely come down to these technical questions about the website's functionality.

Even in a best-case scenario, the site's troubles have taken a toll. A political toll, to be sure: an IT screwup has given ammo to those that would shout "trainwreck" no matter what. The IT screwup isn't inherent to the law itself, but it's inexcusable for precisely that reason. An unforced error in the homestretch of a generational fight for universal health care.

And politics aside, it's likely that — even though we know that most consumers typically sign up later in an open enrollment process — some non-trivial number of people that would have enrolled now won't because of the site's troubles. That includes folks that got misleading information from their insurance companies that would stick them with worse deals than what they could find on the new health insurance marketplaces. The disruptions to the individual market for health insurance in this country are a good thing — a feature, not a bug, of Obamacare — but the transition has been more confusing and frightening for many because of the website's failings. That comes with a real human cost.  

For more: check out the tick-tock on the website's failings and the administration's reaction in this morning's New York Times and a great preview rounding up the meaning of this news from Wonkblog. Here's the key overview from HHS (read the whole thing here): 

Over the last five weeks, substantial progress has been made improving HealthCare.gov and getting the system to where it needs to be:

*Hundreds of software fixes, hardware upgrades and continuous monitoring have measurably improved the consumer experience
*Site capacity is stable at its intended level
*Operating metrics are greatly improved, and activity levels demonstrate the site is working for consumers

While there is more work to be done, the team is operating with private sector velocity and effectiveness, and will continue their work to improve and enhance the website in the weeks and months ahead. 


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