Saturday marked the self-imposed deadline issued by President Obama and government officials for HealthCare.gov to be running smoothly for the majority of Americans — considered four out of five users — but it appears as though weeks of work lie ahead even if that goal has been met.
According to the New York Times, specialists have stated that huge hardware reconfigurations still need to be implemented for HealthCare.gov to run properly if the website is expected to weather the huge rush of users to the website. Without such changes, experts believe that the website will continue to experience crashes during periods of peak use. There also still appear to be problems on the invisible “back end” of the site — the portion of the healthcare website that transmits enrollment information to users and has so far had problems with inaccuracy.
Regardless, the Obama administration stated on Saturday that 90 percent of HealthCare.gov users are now able to create an account on the system, although it did not specify whether hardware and software upgrades meant that that same number of users can actually complete the enrollment process. The administration also supported the claims by experts, admitting that the website could still experience problems at times of high site traffic.
“There will be moments, most likely in the middle of the day, where demand will be greater than that capacity,” Jeffrey Zients, the person tasked with fixing HealthCare.gov, stated. While Zients and his team have created a new “queueing” system that should help the site run smoothly during peak hours, the administration is still suggesting that users tryto visit the site during off-hours in order to avoid potential slowdowns.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (or CMS) took down the website for a long 11-hour maintenance period on Friday night, and the Chicago Tribune reported that the website’s account creation and log-in functions appeared to function properly early Saturday morning. But technology specialists speaking to Reuters suggest that it will be unclear to outside observers whether the website is meeting its goals for running smoothly for four out of five users.
Rick Howard, a research director at technology consultant Gartner, says that while the improvements in basic functioning are important for the website’s success, the real questions revolve around direct payments to private insurance companies — a system which still has functions in the process of being built.
“The real tests are: Were my premium payment and subsidy accurately calculated? Am I getting the coverage I signed up for? If my income situation changes, will the reconciliation occur in a timely fashion?” says Howard.
Zients is set to meet with reporters on Sunday to discuss the changes to the website, and anything short of the administration’s goals will have huge consequences. For uninsured Americans, continued issues with securing health insurance on HealthCare.gov would put them in jeopardy of missing the December 23 deadline set by the administration, putting those users at risk of fines. And for congressional Democrats, any additional problems with the exchange could put them in jeopardy for re-election in 2014. Between those two issues, continued missteps could create a ripple effect of problems that would affect everything from politics, the American people, and everything in-between.
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