After outage, health exchange back up, working faster

3:40 PM, Oct 28, 2013   |    comments
Screenshot of HealthCare.gov on October 1, 2013, the first day the health insurance exchanges went online
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WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - After being knocked offline Sunday and an error that was causing problems for insurance applicants, the HeathCare.gov website was working faster Monday than in the previous two weeks.

A USA TODAY analysis indicated that visitors to the site sped through the various sections with no problems. That's a change from previous visits in October, which generated confusing blank pages in place of eligibility results, messages recommending coming back on the weekend or no sign of insurance plan prices or information.

Julie Bataille, director of communications for the Center for Medicare Services, said government technicians and outside industry experts spent last week making improvements. Newly added monitoring tools enabled them to identify slowly responding pages and fix them, she said.

On Monday morning, they worked on a problem to make the initial account creation process go more smoothly, she said. That followed two other major fixes last week.

"We reconfigured various system components" to improve performance, she said. That means people will be able to see insurance plans in seconds, not minutes, Bataille said. That claim was supported by the USA TODAY analysis Monday.

The changes follow last week's appointment of Jeffrey Zients, the Obama administration's first chief performance officer and the former acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, to lead the team to fix the site.

HealthCare.gov, the portal through which an estimated 7 million Americans are expected to buy health insurance as part of the Affordable Care Act, has gone through a rocky first month online since opening Oct. 1. Visitors to the site had to waits hours for pages to open or found themselves shut out completely. Congressional Republicans, who have opposed the law from its inception, used the site's flaws to mount new criticisms of the law and push hearings, while some Democrats have proposed extending the March 31 deadline to buy insurance.

Sunday brought another crisis for the site. A problem with Terremark, a subsidiary of telecommunications giant Verizon, knocked out access to HealthCare.gov that continued until Monday afternoon, Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters said.

A failure in a networking component caused the failure and has apparently affected other companies that use Terremark's services, she said.

On Friday, Zients said the problems with the health insurance exchange would be fixed by Nov. 30.

HHS and White House officials said everyone who wants to buy insurance would have time to do so before the Dec. 15 deadline to receive coverage by the first of the year, and well ahead of the March 31 deadline to buy insurance to comply with the individual mandate.

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