HHS: Expect outages at HealthCare.gov

Federal health officials said that consumers can expect further outages at ObamaCare's troubled enrollment portal as the site undergoes repairs in the next four weeks.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) downplayed the site's semi-regular breakdowns, widely interpreted as a sign of the deep technical problems facing repair teams.

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"This really is an expected part of the process as we make improvements," said Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

"As we expose more volume to the system, we may identify additional issues and address them," she said of the outages.

Bataille spoke on a conference call to reporters several hours after HealthCare.gov unexpectedly crashed for approximately 90 minutes, the latest in a series of blackouts.

A government contractor involved in the site's construction blamed the outage on a flaw in how the system balances its load of users among various servers.

"We were able to quickly diagnose and stabilize the site," Optum Group Executive Vice President Andy Slavitt said.

HHS and its contractors are rushing to sort out problems with HealthCare.gov before Nov. 30, a self-imposed deadline for the repairs.

Within the next four weeks, officials say, most users will encounter an enrollment site free of the problems that thwarted would-be applicants in the last month, such as broken code, error messages and slow load times.

This will be a heavy lift for HHS, which is unaccustomed to rolling out complex computer systems like the one ordered by the 2010 healthcare law.

The debacle at HealthCare.gov has become a major predicament for the Obama administration as valuable enrollment time ticks away.

The website's rocky debut on Oct. 1 marked the beginning of six-month sign-up period when millions of people are meant to enroll in health insurance.

Problems with the portal have thwarted most users from applying for coverage so far, putting additional pressure on HHS to both fix the site and woo frustrated visitors back.

The administration is also facing criticism for a lack of transparency over the site's problems and the repair effort.

Bataille listed several specific changes made over the weekend, including improvements to the once-flawed data sent to insurance companies on applicants' behalf.

That information, called "<834 notices," now contains accurate dates and times, health plan identification numbers and consumer contact information, Bataille said.