HealthCare.gov faces crucial deadline

ObamaCare's main enrollment site is facing its first big deadline since relaunching last month, a crucial test for a system that will help define the law's performance in its second full year of implementation.

People shopping for health insurance must sign up by Monday at midnight if they want their coverage to start Jan. 1. HealthCare.gov appeared to be enrolling users successfully Monday morning and over the weekend, a good sign with user traffic expected to rise significantly.

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The Obama administration is engaged in a full-court press to encourage people to visit the site prior to Monday's deadline. 

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia BurwellSylvia Mary Mathews BurwellPence, Fauci to brief lawmakers on coronavirus Why Trump will win the wall fight Price was a disaster for HHS — Time for an administrator, not an ideologue MORE touted the site during visits to Arizona and Texas over the weekend, a follow-up to President Obama's effort to pitch ObamaCare on ESPN and "The Colbert Report." 

HHS is blanketing TV networks and streaming music sites with ads for coverage, including a campaign aired on Fox, NBC and ESPN during NFL games.

The consumer advertising was expected to see more success than last year, when users directed to HealthCare.gov often faced long delays and technical glitches.

Still, insurance companies complain that the administration has paid more attention to fixing the site's user interface than to repairing its back end, where plan sign-ups are processed.

How that part of the system will perform in the coming months remains an open question, issuers say.

Traffic was already rising at HealthCare.gov between Nov. 29 and Dec. 5, the last period for which HHS reported figures.

About 974,000 people applied for coverage, and 619,000 picked plans during that time, bringing the total number of policies chosen to nearly 1.4 million since Nov. 15. That is more than the number who picked plans in the first three months of last year's sign-up period.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest noted the improvements Friday, though he called last year's figures a "low bar" for success. 

"We are pleased that the website has performed so well in this open enrollment period," Earnest said.

"This certainly is an ongoing process, and we do believe that we will continue to make progress toward expanding coverage," he said.

The administration hopes to enroll 9.1 million people this year, a figure experts believe will be easily exceeded. 

— Sarah Ferris contributed. This post was updated at 10:40 a.m.