Can President ‘right’ the Obamacare ship?
Washington (CNN) — 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 benefits of the President’s signature healthcare plan, a White House official told CNN.
“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,” the official said.
“To kick off the new effort, the President will hold an event at the White House to discuss the health care law’s benefits already in place for millions of Americans and make the case for why we need to move forward to make sure the law is a success.”
The first event is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, but it is just the first wave in a tsunami of information the Obama administration plans to unleash.
This will be a daily event through December 23 as the White House plans to highlight benefits of the Affordable Care Act — sometimes on its own and other times with the help of supporters of the reform package.
A new-found confidence
The offensive is a sign the White House no longer feels weighed down by the problem-plagued HealthCare.gov.
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.
White House spokesman Jay Carney made clear that more glitches were likely in coming weeks and months, arguing that 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 when asked by reporters if HealthCare.gov was truly fixed or merely functioning at a minimal level.
To Carney, the bottom line was that as of Monday, “more people are visiting the site and are able to effectively go from beginning to end” compared to the unsuccessful launch in October and through November.
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
Non-functioning probably isn’t fair, but the online portal did experience delays during peak traffic periods on Monday.
Carney told reporters that 375,000 visitors went to HealthCare.gov by 12 noon ET, almost half the total daily capacity of 800,000 that officials announced Sunday as a result of a round-the-clock effort to fix the site.
However, Carney provided no details about how many of those visitors were able to sign on and enroll in insurance exchanges set up under President Barack Obama’s signature health care reforms.
Insurers: Site glitches persist
A new function created in the latest technological overhaul completed Sunday put people trying to sign up in an online waiting queue if capacity exceeded demand. They could wait until their turn came to enter the system, or ask to receive an e-mail when they could try again at the front of the line.
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.
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.
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.
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 March 31 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.