Million visitors to HealthCare.gov
By: Jason Millman
December 3, 2013 09:58 AM EST
The White House is again kickstarting its Obamacare messaging, reminding people of the benefits that the law offers as the repaired HealthCare.gov site stood up to a million visitors with bumps and waits but no major crashes in its first 24 hours.
President Barack Obama will hold an event Tuesday afternoon with supporters, kicking off several weeks of health law outreach now that the administration is confident that the website is running better — although performance questions remain.
At midday the site has had more than 380,000 visitors, the administration said. It held steady without putting visitors in virtual waiting room.
Two top Obama administration officials, White House deputy senior adviser David Simas and HHS Office of Health Reform director Mike Hash, briefed House Democrats Tuesday morning on website progress. The White House hopes HealthCare.gov’s second act will ease concern among Democratic lawmakers who’ve had their patience tested over the past two months of Obamacare rollout disasters.
Democrats who were at the briefing acknowledged the remaining challenges, both with the technology and with getting the message out about health benefits.
“We’re working,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said. “We think that until every American who has a chance to qualify for these health insurance policies gets it, we’ve got work to do.”
The administration on Tuesday highlighted one of the early enrollment success stories, disclosing that 1.5 million people had been determined to be eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program in the month of October alone. That number is expected to rise when the November numbers are released.
The president’s health care law faces big tests with key Obamacare deadlines quickly approaching. Millions of people who had their health plans cancelled will have to sign up by Dec. 23 if they want coverage in the new Obamacare exchange starting on Jan. 1. There are fears that website problems could leave some of them uninsured, a political nightmare the administration wants to avoid.
The coming days will determine whether HealthCare.gov can continue to bear the stress of increased traffic and whether the administration can fix major bugs still lurking in the system and which are preventing the insurers from getting the accurate enrollment data they need.
Republicans plan ongoing hearings to continue highlighting what they see as flaws and weaknesses in the policy and incompetence in the implementation. House leaders said Tuesday the Obama administration continues to hide facts about Obamacare’s rollout and the numerous ways it harms regular Americans.
“At this point one has to ask what else are they hiding,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said. “While the White House wants to claim HealthCare.gov is working, we know Obamacare is still plagued with problems.”
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he doesn’t think the White House needs to “rebrand” the health care law because the benefits of the law remain.
“I wish I hadn’t called it Obamacare before because that has politicized it and Republicans have used it as a pejorative term,” Hoyer told reporters Tuesday morning.
The White House’s new campaign will try to highlight the Affordable Care Act’s benefits over the next three weeks after the health care law’s unfavorable ratings tumbled even further amid the disastrous rollout. The Obama administration and its allies plan to feature an Obamacare benefit each day until the first enrollment deadline, Dec. 23. People can sign up after that — until March 31 — but not if they want the benefits to start in January.
As traffic mounted on Monday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services deployed a new virtual waiting room when it saw website performance slip with about 35,000 visitors at the same time. That forced many visitors to wait to enter the website, but it never crashed. It is supposed to be able to handle 50,000 people at a time.
Even if the enrollment website has vastly improved since the rocky Oct. 1 launch, the administration faces a significant challenge meeting its stated goal of signing up 7 million through the health insurance exchanges by March 31.
The administration also faces increasing questions about back-end problems with the enrollment system. CMS, the agency overseeing the exchanges, said Monday that it made major fixes to the “834” enrollment files sent to insurers after a customer has picked a health plan. But officials have repeatedly refused to disclose just how widespread the errors are – raising concern about how many people unknowingly haven’t been formally enrolled in health plans.
CMS says it has made fixes to address some 834 problems, but administration officials acknowledge fixing the back-end problems remains a top priority.