Tue, Dec 03, 2013 - Page 7 News List

US healthcare site facing new test as traffic builds

Reuters, WASHINGTON

US President Barack Obama and his healthcare Web site face another critical test starting this week, as Americans who have been unable to enroll in health coverage under Obamacare rush to a site that continues to face challenges.

A day after the administration said it met its weekend deadline for making the Web site operate smoothly for most users, networks of volunteer organizations are expected to resume enrollment activities after a long US Thanksgiving holiday weekend, many of them with backlogs of would-be applicants waiting for access.

While saying the Web site had improved, Obama adviser Jeffrey Zients also warned that peak traffic volumes during the coming weeks could overwhelm it as consumers scramble to sign up before a Dec. 23 deadline for coverage that begins on Jan. 1.

Enroll America, the nonprofit group that serves as a flagship for private-sector enrollment efforts, said it plans to launch a new “Coverage is Coming” push, with more than 1,000 events over the next three weeks ranging from commemorations of World AIDS Day to community health summits and holiday toy drives, Enroll America spokesman Justin Nisly said.

AIDS Alabama, a statewide non-profit organization, had been relying largely on paper applications to sign people up until last week, when they noticed major improvement in the Web site, said Lauren Banks, the organization’s director of policy and advocacy.

One glitch the organization came across last week involved apparently incorrect information about tax subsidies, Banks said. For example, she said, people who appeared to be eligible for subsidies given their income levels were told they did not qualify.

Banks said the organization planned a radio campaign as part of a push to get people enrolled by Dec. 23.

“We really are going to push super hard the next 23 days to get people enrolled for the January first deadline,” Banks said.

The White House, which plans to hold public education events about the healthcare law throughout this month, plans to hold a Youth Summit tomorrow to help drive outreach and enrollment over the remaining four-month enrollment period.

The number who need coverage starting on Jan. 1 could include millions of uninsured Americans with pre-existing health conditions and others who have been notified that their current health plans expire at the end of the year because they do not meet Obamacare’s standards for benefits and consumer protection.

Zients said on Sunday a five-week emergency “tech surge” had doubled the capacity of the health insurance portal that is crucial to helping people shop for insurance plans, while making it more responsive and less prone to errors.

The administration said the effort’s key improvement was to increase the Web site’s capacity to 50,000 simultaneous users, which would allow the site to handle a minimum of 800,000 users per day.

However, officials acknowledged that the site may not operate smoothly for some visitors and they were still scrambling to repair and install functions at the crucial “back end” of the system that are needed to finalize enrollments with insurers.

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