HealthCare.gov better in Kansas but still slowed by high traffic

0 | Health Reform, Insurance

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Paige Ashley, a certified navigator with the Shawnee County Health Agency, helps Lover Chancler, of Topeka, sign on to the Kansas marketplace at recent consumer education session at the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library.

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— Despite improvements made since its disastrous October launch, the HealthCare.gov website today was still not able to seamlessly handle large numbers of consumers attempting to sign up by a Dec. 23 deadline for coverage that starts Jan. 1.

Kansas is one of 36 states that chose to rely on the federal website rather than build one of its own.

Paige Ashley, a certified navigator at the Shawnee County Health Agency, said she booked an appointment for this morning to help a consumer shop for coverage after she experimented with the site last week and found it was “working well.”

“I was crossing my fingers that it was still going to be working wonderfully today,” Ashley said.

But it wasn’t.

The system "is slow and we are running into glitches again,” Ashley said. “I think it’s because of the high number of people currently trying to get onto the system.”

Ashley said her client was able to login to the website, create an account and enter all of her requisite background information. But the system wasn’t able to calculate whether she was eligible for a federal subsidy to help her purchase coverage.

“It kind of just stopped there,” Ashley said. “So, she will have to come back.”

Later today, federal officials confirmed that technical teams monitoring the system’s performance triggered a new “customer queuing system” that automatically prevents people from logging in if there are indications the additional traffic could overwhelm the system and prevent it from working for those already on the site.

“At approximately 10 a.m. (EST) our operations team monitoring traffic patterns in real time put this in place when they saw response times and error messages appear for consumers in the application process,” said Julie Bataille, a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal office responsible for the website.

Officials said the re-worked website could handle up to 800,000 visitors a day and 50,000 at any given time. However, Bataille said approximately 30,000 people were on the site when technicians deployed the queueing system to limit traffic.

“We do know that demand today has been high. We do know that things are not perfect with the site,” Bataille said. “We will continue to work to make improvements and upgrades.”

The system automatically generates emails to people prevented from logging in that alert them to when they should try again, Bataille said.

Bataille declined to confirm a Bloomberg report that 100,000 people had signed up for coverage on the federal website during November, nearly four times the number who selected plans in October.

On Sunday, the Obama administration said that it had met its goal of improving the website so that it works well for the vast majority of users — saying it is crashing or timing out less than 1 percent of the time now. However, officials acknowledged that extensive work remains to be done to buttress the troubled website, which has marred the rollout of President Obama’s signature health-care initiative.

Federal officials are expected to release official enrollment numbers in a few weeks. In the meantime, many of the state-run enrollment websites continue to work better. In New York, officials said that more than 76,000 had enrolled in a health plan and more than 257,000 had completed applications. More than 386,000 people have completed online applications on the California site while about 60,000 have enrolled in coverage on the Kentucky site.



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