More O-Care site problems 'downstream'

The agency tasked with implementing the president’s healthcare law said Thursday it had uncovered “new stresses further downstream in the system” that revealed the need for a fresh look at the back-end capacity needs of the online healthcare portal.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) spokeswoman Julie Bataille opened a conference call with reporters by acknowledging for the second consecutive day that while the system was stable, it remains slow for many users.

She said that as additional “volume is exposed to the system, we are identifying new issues and adding them to the punch list.”

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The slow response times are an improvement after weeks of the website crashing or producing error messages for potential consumers. But the barrage of new items added to the CMS “punch list” remains a concern.

“This is something that’s a continuous process and we are constantly identifying new issues ... putting them on the punch list, and working through them one by one,” Bataille said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified on Wednesday that there were “a couple of hundred fixes” required. CMS has pledged to have the website “running smoothly for most users” by Nov. 30.

On Thursday, Bataille wouldn’t specify exactly how “running smoothly for most users” could be measured. One reporter asked if it meant that everyone who tried to enroll through the online portal would be able to do so.

“The online system will work for the vast majority of users who choose to use it by the end of the month,” Bataille said.

Bataille said there was no discussion of pushing back the Dec. 15 enrollment deadline, but the moderator on the call ignored a question from a reporter about whether a delay had been definitively ruled out.

CMS argues that there are other ways to enroll, such as over the phone, on a paper application and in person, and that those who choose to do so will have ample time enroll before Dec. 15 for those who hope to have insurance by Jan. 1.

The administration has also referred to the enrollment period as six months long because the individual mandate penalty doesn’t hit until the end of March

“We remain on pace in terms of the progress we are making,” Bataille said. “We have always said it will be incremental.”

CMS has previously acknowledged that it's on an “aggressive timeline” to fix the system.”

“We remain frustrated ... about the experience we are having online,” Bataille concluded.