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Battered by two months of bad publicity over the Obamacare website, the White House is going on the offensive to tout what it sees as the good news about the President’s signature health care reforms.
President Barack Obama launched a three-week campaign intended to highlight the benefits of the 2010 Affordable Care Act with a White House event on Tuesday.
The event comes a day after the problem-plagued Obamacare website handled more than 1 million visitors with no major problems, according to administration officials, who provided no details on how many of the users were able to fully enroll.
After the botched website launch on October 1, the administration hopes the ability of HealthCare.gov to handle heavier than average volume signaled a major step forward in getting people to sign up for health coverage now required by law under the reforms.
However, officials warn glitches will persist and describe the website as an ever-evolving work in progress. In addition, insurance companies say some “back-end” aspects of the HealthCare.gov system continued to malfunction.
In particular, insurers say there are problems with applications from people who signed up through the website, including erroneous or missing information.
Critics led by conservative Republicans trying to dismantle the health care reforms known as Obamacare say the website problems foreshadow deeper failings of the law that passed with no GOP support.
“It’s not just a broken website; this bill is fundamentally flawed,” House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday, later adding that “when you look at Obamacare, what you see is a government-centered health care delivery system.”
Americans don’t want that, the Ohio Republican insisted, declaring they instead they “want to be able to pick their own type of health insurance, they want to be able to pick their own doctor and they want to be able to pick their own hospital.”
At the White House, the focus is on emphasizing how Obamacare has helped people in the three years since it became law.
“While work continues on the website, we think it is important that proponents of health reform undertake a renewed effort to refocus the public on the benefits of the law that have already been implemented,” said the White House official who spoke on condition of not being identified.
Obama’s remarks Tuesday represent the first wave in a tsunami of information his administration plans to unleash.
He said the website was now working well for the vast majority of users and was “here to stay” as long as he remains in office.
“This law is working and will work in the future,” he said.
In a blog post on Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that more than 1.46 million people have been added to Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program rolls due to expanded services under the health care reforms.
The Affordable Care Act offered states additional federal funding to offer Medicaid and CHIP coverage to more low-income Americans. So far, 24 states and the District of Columbia have accepted the expansion funding while three others are still deciding and 23 have declined.
More events will occur daily events through December 23 as the administration tries to shift attention away from the website woes of the past two months to take on Republican foes attacking the law.
A new-found confidence
Over the weekend, officials announced they had met their self-imposed November 30 deadline for getting the site working for the “vast majority” of users, saying response times and error rates had been slashed while capacity increased.
Jeffrey Zients, a former administration official brought in to oversee the website fixes after its launch, compared the hardware upgrades so far to widening a highway on-ramp from two lanes to four.
Brazile: Health care website improving
That means chronic breakdowns, error messages and delays users experienced two months ago when the website went live have mostly disappeared, he said, noting the average response time was less than 1 second and the system’s “uptime” — a measure of system stability — was consistently surpassing 90%.
It all means that HealthCare.gov can now handle its original intended volume of 50,000 concurrent users for a total of 800,000 visitors a day, according to Zients.
A new component that put users in a waiting queue during periods of high volume provided a better-managed delay than the site freezes and error messages of October.
Three CNN journalists who attempted to sign on Monday ended up in the new queue around midday and then two hours later. Their wait lasted a few minutes before they received a prompt on their screen to proceed with enrollment.
Later in the day, users proceeded directly to enrollment without waiting, indicating reduced volume at the end of the afternoon, as officials had predicted.
The new feature also asked users in the waiting queue if they wanted to receive an e-mail when they could try again at the front of the line.
According to an HHS official, 13,000 people requested an e-mail and 60% of them — roughly 7,800 — later returned after getting the email notification.
White House spokesman Jay Carney noted any major website has periodic problems that must be addressed.
“It does not mean that there will be no problems with the website going forward,” he said Monday when asked by reporters if HealthCare.gov was truly fixed or merely functioning at a minimal level.
Administration: Obamacare website working smoothly
Not all roses in the Rose Garden
Vocal throughout the launch of the program and the successive problems, the GOP stayed vigilant with its critique.
“President Obama and his administration repeatedly claimed the Obamacare website would be fully functioning by the end of November, but this has proven to be just another broken promise,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. “The Obama administration had over three years to build HealthCare.gov, and all they’ve produced is a non-functioning website, wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.”
Obamacare site fix: 5 things to look for
Insurers: Site glitches persist
In October, the first month of a six-month enrollment period, just over 106,000 people signed up for Obamacare. Less than 27,000 of them did so through the HealthCare.gov website, which was supposed to be the main enrollment portal.
An administration official familiar with the matter told CNN that about 100,000 people signed up for coverage last month on the site. The official cautioned the number was preliminary and final numbers would be released in mid-December.
Joanne Peters, a Health and Human Services spokeswoman, said enrollment through alternate channels and successful exchanges in 14 states would help bolster November figures.
Initial enrollment figures lower than hoped
Website progress garners muted reaction from Congress
Marilyn Tavenner, the official charged with implementing Obamacare as director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told a congressional hearing last month that the administration initially hoped to enroll 800,000 people by the end of November. The overall enrollment target by the March 31 deadline for 2014 is 7 million.
A properly functioning HealthCare.gov is crucial to implementing the most vital provisions of the health law that require people to have health coverage.
The coming months will show if it was successful.