Screenshot of HealthCare.gov on October 30, 2013
(CBS NEWS) -- In
late October, after it became clear that HealthCare.gov's problems
went far beyond heavy traffic, the administration's freshly-appointed
Obamacare website czar Jeff Zients promised, "By the end of November,
HealthCare.gov will work smoothly for the vast majority of users."
the eve of its self-imposed deadline, the Obama administration has made
significant progress on the dysfunctional website, which serves as a
portal to the new Obamacare marketplaces for 36 states -- perhaps enough
progress to meet its own vague standard of functionality for the "vast
majority" of users. Even so, significant portions of HealthCare.gov have
yet to be finished, and uncertainty in the new marketplaces persists.
HealthCare.gov's disastrous Oct. 1 launch, the administration turned
its focus to improving the user experience on the website. By December,
HealthCare.gov should be able to handle as many as 50,000 users at a
time and more than 800,000 visits a day, administration officials said Monday. There may still be some outages, but the administration promised
a smooth experience for most users. If more than 50,000 visitors crowd
onto the site at once, some should be placed in a user-friendly queuing
are definitely on track to a have a significantly different user
experience by the end of this month," Health and Human Services
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told state and local officials on Tuesday.
seeing more and more enrollments each and every day," Sebelius added,
noting that the administration has made hardware and software
improvements to the website. "I would urge you and your folks on the
ground to not hesitate to recommend people go to HealthCare.gov and get
people signed up."
the administration has, for the most part, been reticent to define what
the "vast majority" of users means, it acknowledged last week that it
expects around 80 percent of HealthCare.gov visitors to make it through
the enrollment process. White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the
other 20 percent may experience website glitches -- or they may find it
preferable to finish the enrollment process offline for other reasons.
For instance, a person with complex health issues may find it easier to
enroll with assistance over the phone.
80 percent success rate is a reasonable goal, Larry Levitt, a senior
vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said to CBSNews.com.
don't think it's unreasonable to expect that a minority of people will
need some help," he said. "If you look at the experience in states where
the process is working pretty well, there's still a significant number
of people who need help with the application."
particularly true given that millions of Americans are being dropped
from plans on the individual market that no longer meet existing
instance, California's new marketplace, Covered California, already has
more than 360,000 people enrolled and has been touted as a success.
a country we're now poised to gain health coverage for millions of
Americans January 1, and that includes 350,000 right here in California
who have already signed up," President Obama said in Glendale, Calif. on
Tuesday. But with as many as 900,000 Californians expected to lose
their coverage, Covered California this week opened a hotline with 25
dedicated representatives to help guide people through the transition to
number of Americans losing insurance -- and the evolving policy
surrounding the problem -- are adding to the uncertainty the new
marketplaces fact. In fact, some states with more stable Obamacare
marketplaces, like California, are rejecting Mr. Obama's administrative policy solution, which allows insurers to extend existing plans for
another year. The president's solution, some insurers and state
regulators argue, would leave only the sickest customers with incentive
to sign up for Obamacare in its first year, consequently destabilizing
the new market.
market upheaval would make it difficult to build up the new
marketplace, even if HealthCare.gov were running smoothly. The impact of
these challenges will be more clear in mid-December when the
administration releases national enrollment figures for the second month
of open enrollment. In mid-November, the administration reported that
in the first month, only 106,185 people had successfully chosen health
insurance plans from the new Obamacare marketplaces -- far fewer than
the nearly 500,000 the administration anticipated. By the end of the
six-month open enrollment period in March, the administration initially
anticipated having seven million enrollees.
on Tuesday stressed that there's plenty of time left for people to sign
up. "We are eight weeks into a 26-week open enrollment period," she
public confidence in the Affordable Care Act has suffered a serious
blow in the wake of all of the health law's problems. A CBS News poll
released last week showed that approval of the law has dropped to 31
percent - the lowest number yet recorded in CBS News polls, and a drop
of 12 points since just last month. Additionally, just 32 percent approve of how Mr. Obama is handling the issue of health care, down eight points from September.
if the user experience on HealthCare.gov improves and consumers return
to it with restored confidence, the administration has significant work
to do on the back end of the website. Last week, Obama administration
officials acknowledged that it still has to build elements of the
website, such as financial management systems to transfer tax credits to
insurers. The administration said those systems are not essential until