Health care website to meet its goals, feds say
By The Washington Post
Published: Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
WASHINGTON — Obama administration officials are preparing to announce on Sunday that they have met their Saturday deadline for improving HealthCare.gov, according to government officials, in part by expanding the website's ability to handle 50,000 users at once. But they have yet to meet all of their internal goals for repairing the federal health care site, and it will not become clear how many consumers it can accommodate until more people try to use it.
As of Friday night, federal officials and contractors had achieved two goals, according to government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations. They had increased the system's capacity and reduced errors. On the other hand, the website's pages do not load as fast as they want, officials said, and they are working to ensure that large numbers of consumers can enter the site.
An official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency overseeing the federal health insurance exchange, said the website's true capacity is somewhat murky because they need to see how it performs under “weekday traffic volumes” when demand is at its peak.
Federal employees and information technology contractors were expected to work through the night Friday to try to reach one of the remaining targets: how many people per hour should be able to register and log onto the site. An earlier attempt to make the fix failed several days ago.
Nov. 30 was not originally intended to be a key date for the online enrollment system, but it took on outsized political and public importance when administration officials announced five weeks ago that the “vast majority of users” would be able to sign up for insurance through the site by that day. A combination of federal employees, outside contractors and a handful of technical and management experts have worked at breakneck speed for five weeks to improve the website's performance as the White House has come under withering criticism from its political opponents and some consumers.
In an interview with Barbara Walters on ABC on Friday night, President Obama said he was confident that, in time, Americans would come to embrace his controversial health care law.
“I continue to believe, and I am⅜absolutely convinced, that at the end of the day, people are going to look back at the work we've done to make sure that in this country, you don't go bankrupt when you get sick, that families have that security,” Obama said. “That is going be a legacy I am extraordinarily proud of.”
Administration officials have said for several weeks they define success as having “the vast majority of users” be able to navigate the site and sign up for insurance.
How much load the site can withstand depends on how much consumers are asking it to do. For example, simply looking around on the “learn” part of the site — where people can get basic information and a rough sense of prices — puts less strain on the system than the areas where people actually apply for coverage.
The upgrade that workers were planning to attempt at midnight Friday is intended to allow more people to use the initial stages of seeking insurance on the site. But the upgrade also meant that the site would be unavailable overnight from 9 p.m. Eastern time on Friday until 8 a.m. Saturday.
Administration officials have established a capacity goal of 80,000 consumers per hour being able to register and 320,000 people per hour who already have accounts being able to log in, according to federal officials familiar with this aspect of the project, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal details.
The team has not yet attained its target of cutting the average load time across the site to no more than half a second, officials said.
The blitz to rehabilitate the site has entailed an unusual public-private partnership over the past five weeks. The White House rejected the idea of turning over the work of fixing the site mainly to Silicon Valley allies, some of whom served as the president's campaign operatives, deciding instead to selectively tap a handful of them to help steer the project.
Since starting work, the team has “knocked through well over 300 bugs,” project overseer Jeffrey Zients said, and each evening, the group has put in hardware upgrades or fixed a glitch during the four- to five-hour maintenance window it has to work on the site.
The 25 people working in the command center in Columbia, Md., who represent all the major contractors that helped build the site, could evaluate HealthCare.gov's real-time performance through 15 screens capturing its overall response time, error rate, volume of traffic and visitor makeup and which functions users are performing at a given time.
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