Is An 80 Percent Success Rate for Good Enough?

It’s safe to say that the rollout of has been fraught with problems, but the Obama administration is still hoping it can right the ship. According to government and industry officials, the federal insurance marketplaces will be considered a success if 80 percent of users can purchase health care plans online, the Washington Post reports.

That number — 80 percent — is an internal goal among those close to the project and not a number that has been floated to the public. According to the Washington Post, it’s a figure that represents the performance standard of the exchanges over the program’s first three-and-a-half years, and it is a number that was designed by a group of federal officials and technical experts in October. As government employees race to repair problems with the website by the November 30 deadline, an 80 percent success rate is their guiding number.

Of course, an 80 percent success rate also means that one in five people seeking insurance through the exchanges will be unable to do so — not exactly a strong benchmark as President Obama attempts to stymie criticism over the health care exchanges, even if it would be a far better number than what is currently being seen. According to a government official familiar with the goal, the 20 percent who are unlikely to be able to enroll are people with complicated family circumstances that the website cannot determine, people uncomfortable using a computer to purchase insurance, and those who experience technical problems on

“We are very focused on measuring performance of the site now and moving forward and making sure we have ways to demonstrate progress,” says Julie Bataille, communications director for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. This of course comes after administration officials admitted recently that they had no concrete definition as to how would perform when it went live on October 1. But, officials have promised over the past several weeks that the site will “work smoothly for the vast majority of users” by the end of November.

A government official with knowledge of the project told the Washington Post that the catchphrase was coined by former presidential management official Jeffrey Zients before he was assigned to oversee the website’s repairs. Two new measurements have been implemented in the push towards the goal: a log of how long consumers must wait for pages to load on and how often they get error messages. This information now appears in reports generated each morning.

However, the Washington Post ran an article last week calling the late November goal a long-shot, as the site experiences technical hiccups when 20,000 to 30,000 people attempt to use it at the same time — half the intended capacity.

A meeting in late October at the offices of CGI Federal — the main contractor for the Web site — outlined several goals in order to hit the 80 percent mark. Those familiar with the meeting told the Washington Post that the group had calculated it would need an error rate of less than 1 percent and a wait time of 500 milliseconds or less on any portion of the website.

In recent days, public officials have noted that the error rate has dropped from 6 percent to less than 1 percent, and has performed with nearly half-a-second wait times on most days. Unfortunately, people have also been less likely to visit the website, either because of previous issues with the site or what they’ve heard from various sources. Either way, it looks like is certainly moving in the right direction.

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