HHS touts upgrades to ObamaCare website

Federal health officials are touting what they describe as major improvements to the ObamaCare website ahead of the new enrollment period on Nov. 15.

Less than six weeks before sign-ups begin, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday demonstrated a shorter, cleaner online application before a handful of journalists.

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HHS officials predicted it would take most users less than half the time to complete the process compared to last year. The system has added mobile capabilities and is undergoing a fourth and final stage of testing before its scheduled re-opening on Nov. 15, they said.

"What we're focused on is a successful consumer experience," said Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Principal Deputy Administrator Andy Slavitt.

HealthCare.gov is the website where consumers can purchase health plans from exchanges in 36 states.

The site's troubled and chaotic launch one year ago threatened the rollout of the healthcare law and created a political firestorm for President OBama.

Though the system eventually recovered, few of its original managers remain in leadership roles at HHS one month prior to year two of open enrollment.

Slavitt, HealthCare.gov CEO Kevin Counihan and CMS Communications Director Lori Lodes — who led Wednesday's briefing — each joined the department within the last three months.

Their implicit message was that the new team will be more effective than their predecessors, even as Slavitt and others brushed off specific questions about the site's functionality.

Asked about the site's user capacity, Slavitt said he would not give any numbers until testing of the site concludes. He said he was aiming for "significantly more" than 125,000, the peak user count seen in March.

"We are more comfortable talking about results rather than expectations," he said. The new, improved application has already processed 20,000 applications since its rollout in late July.

HHS also stayed mum about the particulars of re-enrollment for people who want to change their existing coverage on the exchanges.

"There will be a number of options for consumers going through the process," Slavitt said, promising details at a later date. "We don't have a great concern that people will be confused by the technology."

Most people already in the system will be automatically re-enrolled with the same level of premium subsidies. Those who want to switch plans must complete the process by Dec. 15 in order to have coverage Jan. 1, Slavitt said.

Consumers will be able to window-shop, a new functionality, starting around Nov. 9.

—This post was updated Thursday at 11:17 a.m.