Officials target end of November for smooth HealthCare.gov

The Obamacare website still has 'dozens' of bugs that need to be fixed, a consultant says

HealthCare.gov, the malfunctioning insurance-shopping website at the heart of the controversial Obamacare program, should be running smoothly for the vast majority of users by the end of November, about two months after its launch, officials said.

While many users are now able to register at the site and apply for insurance coverage, the site still needs "dozens" in the areas of website performance and functionality, said Jeffrey Zients, a former acting director at the White House Office of Management and Budget brought in by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to assess the site.

The website is "fixable," Zients said during a Friday press briefing. "It'll take a lot of work, and there are a lot of problems that need to be addressed."

Visitors to the site should see improvements every week, he said. By the end of November, "the vast majority of consumers will be able to successfully and smoothly enroll through HealthCare.gov," he said. "The issues with HealthCare.gov today will be resolved, and the system will operate as its designed to. There will be much-improved response times and fewer time outs."

About 90 percent of visitors to HealthCare.gov can now create accounts there, Zients said. The website's performance allowing visitors to complete insurance applications remains "volatile," he added.

A group of tech experts has created a "punch list" of priority bug fixes, Zients said. He declined to list all the priority bugs but said one top priority is fixing garbled application information that insurance companies are receiving from the website.

The HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services [CMS], the agency responsible for the site, announced Friday it has hired a new general contractor to oversee the site fixes. QSSI, which worked on parts of the site before launch will have that role, with contract terms to be determined, said Julie Bataille, director of communications for CMS. About 50 contractors worked on the US $500 million site before it launched.

On Thursday, representatives with QSSI and CGI Federal, the main contractor responsible for building the site, told U.S. lawmakers that no one contractor had the responsibility to make sure all the complicated site's technologies worked together.

CMS scheduled just two weeks for testing the integration of the site's functionality, including log-in mechanisms, an insurance eligibility tool, insurance plan comparisons and other services, before launch, they said.

More than 20 million people visited HealthCare.gov in its first three weeks, officials have said. Large traffic numbers in the first days after launch added to the site's problems, U.S. officials and contractors have said.

Nearly 700,000 U.S. residents have filled out applications for health insurance coverage since Oct. 1, with nearly half of those coming through HealthCare.gov and others coming through state-run sites, Bataille said. She declined to tell reporters how many of the applications have been successfully processed.

HealthCare.gov is one way that uninsured U.S. residents can apply for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, passed by Congress in 2010. Uninsured U.S. residents have until Dec. 15 to sign up for health insurance policies that would take effect Jan. 1, but they have until the end of March to meet the deadline of buying health insurance to avoid a tax penalty.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags governmentindustry verticalshealth careGovernment use of ITU.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesU.S. White House Office of Management and BudgetHealthcare.govCGI FederalJulie BatailleJeffrey ZientsQSSI

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