The White House announced Sunday it has met its goal to make itstroubled Healthcare.gov website operate smoothly for most users, fuelinghope among Democrats that attention can now turn to successes of theunderlying health care law.
"The bottom line is health care.gov onDecember first is night and day from where it was October first," saidJeffrey Zients, the president's appointee to fix the website's problems."The site is now stable and operating at its intended capacity atgreatly improved performance."
When the site - which allows peopleto compare private plan benefits and costs before buying an insurancepolicy - launched Oct. 1, millions of people were disappointed by slowor frozen pages, an inability to log in, and incorrect or missinginformation. The White House tapped Zients to lead a team to fix thesite.
At the beginning of November, Zients said the site had an "up time" of just 43%. As of Nov. 30, the site's up time was 95%.
"We have a much more stable system that's reliably open for business," he said in a Sunday conference call with reporters.
The news was met optimistically by Democrats and with trepidation from Republicans Sunday.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said on CBS's Face The Nationthat the updates were good news, and compared the exchange's previousperformance to a store advertising a sale but forgetting to unlock thedoors.
"It sounds like the front door has been opened successfully now," Menendez said.
ButSen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the health care law still puts "downwardpressure on employment" and "upward pressure on the deficit."
"I don't know how you fix the many fundamental problems of this program," he said.
The Republican governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, said the GOP needs an alternative, market-driven plan for health care.
"We just have to have the courage to stand up and do it, and we're doing it in the states," he said.
Rep.Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the backlash is to be expected, but thathe's relieved to hear the website is now operating smoothly.
"Clearlyby any metric, the website is much better than it was," he said onMSNBC. "Let's hope that this is now the end of the botched website - wecan move into a new phase where people are enrolling, where people areseeing the benefits of expanded coverage."
After hardware updatesand bug fixes that continued through the weekend, the federal healthexchange site now has the capacity to serve 50,000 people at a time, fora total of 800,000 people a day, according to a report issued Sunday bythe Department of Health and Human Services.
That figure is "conservative," Zients said, because it was calculated using an eight-hour day, rather than a 24-hour day.
"Weneeded to get the team working with the speed and urgency of ahigh-tech company," Zients said. Just as a high-tech company accountableto shareholders would, the team has focused in the past month on dailyprogress reports to ensure people know what's being done to fix thesite. At least 50 bug fixes were made just last night, bringing thenumber 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.
Anew hardware upgrade made Friday quadrupled the registration capacity,Zients said, and response times are under one second with an error ratebelow 1%.
Over the holiday weekend, "Traffic has beensignificantly higher than a typical weekend," Zients said, but thewebsite has handled the workload smoothly.
Julie Bataille,director of the office of communications for the Centers for Medicareand Medicaid Services, said the team continued to work over the weekendon the back-end of the site, to make sure that insurers receive subsidypayments after people buy plans, as well as to make sure the plansreceive correct information.
"As we said about five weeks ago, wewere seeing only about 30% of users being able to enroll," Bataillesaid. That percentage is now up to 80%.
However, Batailleexplained that there will always be a significant percentage of peoplewho will need additional help navigating the site, but not necessarilybecause of technological problems. Some people have complex familysituations, and others aren't comfortable using the Internet forpurchases in general.
"It's important to remember that there areand will remain a significant number of people for whom online is nottheir preferred method of enrollment," she said. Those people can stillenroll with paper applications and over the phone.
Zientsexplained a new feature of the site: If someone comes to HealthCare.govand the site is at maximum capacity, the person will be able to leave ane-mail address. When traffic clears and there is space for anothervisitor, that person will receive an e-mail telling them they can logback in without a wait.