WASHINGTON -- The White House announced Sunday it has met its goal to make the Healthcare.gov website operate smoothly for most users by Nov. 30.
"The bottom line is health care.gov on December first is night and day from where it was October first," said Jeffrey Zients, the president's appointee to fix the website's problems. "The site is now stable and operating at its intended capacity at greatly improved performance."
When the site -- which allows people to compare private plan benefits and costs before buying an insurance policy -- launched Oct. 1, millions of people were disappointed by slow or frozen pages, an inability to log in, and incorrect or missing information. The White House tapped Zients to lead a team to fix the site.
At the beginning of November, Zients said the site had an "up time" of just 43 percent. As of Nov. 30, the site's up time was 95 percent.
"We have a much more stable system that's reliably open for business," he said in a Sunday conference call with reporters.
After hardware updates and bug fixes that continued through the weekend, the federal health exchange site now has the capacity to serve 50,000 people at a time, for a total of 800,000 people a day, according to a report issued Sunday by the Department of Health and Human Services.
That figure is "conservative," Zients said, because they figured it using an eight-hour day, rather than a 24-hour day.
"We needed to get the team working with the speed and urgency of a high-tech company," Zients said. Just as a high-tech company accountable to shareholders would, the team has focused in the past month on daily progress reports to ensure people know what's being done to fix the site. At least 50 bug fixes were made just last night, bringing the number of fixes up to more than 400.
According to the administration, Zients' repair team has so far:
• Made hundreds of software fixes, upgraded hardware, and monitored the system to make improvements;
• Stabilized the site at its original intended capacity; and
• Improved overall metrics, which means the site is working well for most users.
A new hardware upgrade made Friday quadrupled the registration capacity, Zients said, and response times are under one second with an error rate below 1 percent.
Over the holiday weekend, "Traffic has been significantly higher than a typical weekend," Zients said, but the website has handled the traffic smoothly.
Julie Bataille, director of the office of communications for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the team continued to work over the weekend on the back-end of the site, to make sure that insurers receive subsidy payments after people buy plans, as well as to make sure the plans receive correct information.
"As we said about five weeks ago, we were seeing only about 30 percent of users being able to enroll," Bataille said. That percentage is now up to 80 percent.
However, Bataille explained that there will always be a significant percentage of people who will need additional help navigating the site, but not necessarily because of problems with the site. Some people have complex family situations, and others aren't comfortable using the Internet for purchases in general.
"It's important to remember that there are and will remain a significant number of people for whom online is not their preferred method of enrollment," she said. Those people will be able to enroll with paper applications, in person, over the phone, and, in some cases, directly through an insurer.
Bataille said it could take several days for people to see the results of some improvements, such as for those who lost their login information or were locked out of the system.
Zients explained a new feature of the site: If someone comes to HealthCare.gov and the site is at maximum capacity, the person will be able to leave an email address. When traffic clears and there is space for another visitor, that person will receive an email telling them they can log back in without a wait.
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