HHS touts surge for H-Care.gov

This player has full sharing enabled: social, email, embed, etc. It has the ability to go fullscreen. It will display a list of suggested videos when the video has played to the end.

The Obama administration reported a surge of renewed interest in HealthCare.gov on Monday, saying 375,000 people had visited the online federal exchange before noon.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) spokeswoman Julie Bataille said that’s roughly double the traffic the site has received on a typical Monday and that HealthCare.gov also logged higher-than-average numbers on Sunday.

Bataille said the site is on pace to hit about 800,000 visitors on Monday, which is close to the maximum daily number that officials believe the system can handle at this point. 

Separately, administration officials said they expected enrollment through the healthcare exchanges to increase because of fixes made to the website.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Obama administration said it would report November enrollment figures in mid-December and that it expects the number of enrollees to spike because of the website repairs and a surge in enrollments in the state-run exchanges. That is a shift from a couple of weeks ago, when the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) downplayed enrollment expectations for November.

The state markets have largely avoided the problems of the federally run exchanges, and have emerged as a rare bright spot in the healthcare law’s rollout.

“We expect that enrollment will increase with the technical improvements we’ve made, enrollment taking place across our customer service channels, and the surge in enrollment that many states who are running their own marketplaces have reported,” HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said.

November’s enrollment figures are expected to surpass the paltry numbers for October, when sign-ups were hampered by an erratic HealthCare.gov plagued by outages and error messages.

Bloomberg reported that another 100,000 people enrolled in the federal marketplaces in November, which would be nearly a fourfold jump from October. Still, the administration appears well behind its original goal of having 800,000 people signed up through the state and federal exchanges in the first two months.

“It’s important to remember we are just two months into a six-month open enrollment period that we expect will ramp up over time as we’ve seen in other implementation efforts, such as [in] Massachusetts and Medicare Part D,” Peters added.

The administration desperately needs some positive momentum on the healthcare front, as two chaotic months have dragged President Obama’s approval rating to record lows.

The hope now is that the site can handle the influx of consumers expected to flood the markets in the weeks before the Dec. 23 deadline for those seeking coverage by Jan. 1.

Still, there are signs that the website issues will linger.

The administration claimed Sunday to have met its self-imposed deadline for having the federal website running smoothly for most users. When it launched on Oct. 1, the site was supposed to be able to handle 50,000 concurrent users, and HHS intended to hit that mark by its Nov. 30 deadline.

But on Monday, a newly installed back-up system was deployed at a lower traffic rate than officials thought would be necessary. The site’s try-again-later system was initiated with roughly 35,000 users online.

The CMS is adamant that the queuing system only went live because technicians sought to “maximize a smooth user experience” for those online.

According to Bataille, the queuing, which sends users to a holding page before allowing them to return to where they were, was not employed because the system was at risk of crashing. Rather, the agency said the decision to queue came after technicians noticed the loading time for pages had increased from one second to two seconds, and after the error rate ticked up slightly, though still below 1 percent.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration “anticipated” that it would be a “big day” for traffic and argued that the new queuing system was evidence that improvements added during the “tech surge” were working.

The mixed news had administration officials touting its successes while tempering expectations.

Carney said that the administration had “passed an important milestone,” but he sidestepped questions about whether it was a “mission accomplished” moment for the White House.

“We believe we made the important progress we set out to make, but … the work continues,” Carney said.