|By Randy Tucker, Dayton Daily News, Ohio|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Computer software and hardware upgrades have doubled the website's computing capacity from a month ago, according to officials, who said the website can now accommodate 50,000 users at one time, as originally intended, and as many as 800,000 visitors a day.
"I'll believe it when I see it," said
Spinner is among millions of consumers nationwide seeking coverage in new health care marketplaces created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and who have been frustrated by blank screens, error messages, system outages and other technical problems that have blocked them from accessing coverage through the government website.
HealthCare.gov is the main portal for enrollment in
Delays still expected
With some exceptions, the state-run websites have experienced fewer hiccups and higher enrollment than states utilizing HealthCare.gov, which was blamed for keeping total enrollment down in the first month after the launch of the website on
Nearly 27 million Americans visited state and federal marketplace websites in October, but only about one million of those visitors were able to complete applications and find out if they were eligible for coverage, based on national and state-level figures released earlier this month by HHS. Meanwhile, just 106,185 Americans actually selected a plan in October, including 1,150 Ohioans.
"Those just aren't good numbers," said
Despite continued problems with the website, government officials said earlier this week that federal marketplace enrollment continues to climb at an accelerated pace, although official numbers for November will not be released until later this month.
State enrollment alone has nearly doubled from October to 150,000, up from 79,000 last month, according to the latest state marketplace figures, which showed particularly strong enrollment in
But even with the upgrades to the federal website, government officials are not promising performance on par with the state marketplaces, instead projecting the federal website would work for about 80 percent of users by today.
"As we make these improvements, we expect to see intermittent periods when the system may be slow or not responsive. But we've made measurable progress, and we are moving forward," said
Goal remains 7 million people
Bataille said during peak periods of demand -- including the anticipated surge today -- some users will continue to encounter problems and could be bumped off the website and asked to return later.
Such delays have already prompted the Obama administration to extend the deadline for enrolling in marketplace plans from
To that end, the government has enlisted the help of insurers and online brokers to help augment enrollment in hopes of reaching Obama administration projections that seven million people will gain coverage through the marketplaces by the end of next year.
The government is working with unnamed insurers in
Many insurers selling plans in the marketplace have already embraced direct enrollment but continue to have problems linking to the HealthCare.gov website.
"The website is becoming more reliable. In addition, we are assisting consumers with paper and phone applications when the website is not functioning properly, or the individual is without access to on-line services," according to CareSource.
At the same time, the government has contracted with online brokers who already have working relationships with insurers to facilitate enrollment.
"We are an official web broker entity" for the marketplace, Colwell said. "We're allowed to show HealthCare.gov plans and calculate tax credits and enroll consumers.
"We think it's a great idea to have web brokers like us assist in this effort because people need our expertise to enroll," he said. "We've gotten a pretty good volume of folks looking for insurance, and we just want to give them the best set of options and connect them with the right plan."
Kasich, Taylor want Obamacare repealed
Still, while some see the picture getting brighter, problems with functionality and delays in certain aspects of the government website continue to cast a dark shadow over the federal health care marketplace.
On Wednesday, the government announced it would postpone for a year online sign-ups for small businesses seeking coverage through the Small Business Health Options program, or SHOP, although small business can still buy SHOP insurance through a broker.
Officials said the move is intended to allow the government's marketplace team to work on improving the online experience for individuals, and they pointed out that small businesses with fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees will still have access to expanded tax credits through the SHOP program to help offset the cost of providing group coverage next year.
Still, critics say the delay is further evidence that the key ingredient to
"The federal government's most recent announcement to once again change the rules....only further complicates an already chaotic insurance market,"
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