HealthCare.gov usage soars in December

McClatchy Washington BureauDecember 2, 2013 

US NEWS HEALTHCARE-COUNSELOR LA

Angel Diaz, right, discusses which forms to fill out to enroll in healthcare coverage with Jessie Orozco at St. John's Well Child & Family Center in South Los Angeles

ANNE CUSACK — Los Angeles Times/MCT

— The troubled HealthCare.gov website was on pace to double its typical weekday volume of users, logging 375,000 unique visitors by noon Monday with more than 800,000 site visitors expected by day's end, the Obama administration said.

The site, which serves as the portal for the federal health insurance marketplace, can now accommodate 50,000 simultaneous users and more than 800,000 daily visitors after two months of non-stop repairs seem to have the problem-plagued system functioning properly for most users Officials expected site usage to soar in December as people scurry to enroll in coverage by Dec. 23 in order to have insurance that begins on January 1, 2014. Monday's early volume proved those projections correct.

Around 10 am Monday, with about 33,000 users on the site, HealthCare.gov's operations team began to see response times slow and error messages increase for consumers trying to apply for coverage, said Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The site operations team then activated a new "queing" system that notifies users to return to the system at a later date when volume is lower.

"In order to manage demand and ensure a smooth user experience for those in the system, the team instituted the new queing process so that those moving forward in the application and shopping system would be able to do so smoothly," Bataille said during a telephone press briefing Monday afternoon.

On Monday, HealthCare.gov debuted an enhanced window-shopping feature that allows people to better compare information about health plans in their areas, including deductibles, co-pays for doctors and hospitals, provider networks and other features.

Problems still persist, however, on the federal exchange, which serves 36 states. The repair team recently fixed a bug that was causing 80 percent of the errors that insurers were receiving from HealthCare.gov about their new online enrollees. The bug prevented an applicant's social security number from showing up in their application.

"That bug has been fixed and it's now working properly," Bataille said. She urged consumers who purchased plans through HealthCare.gov to contact their insurers directly to confirm their online coverage has been properly processed. About 30 to 40 percent of the marketplace - mainly the systems used to pay insurers - remains under construction. Those "back end" payment systems will pay insurers the federal subsidies and other financial assistance that help enrollees pay for their coverage.

Until those systems are completed sometime in January, Bataille said insurers will be paid "using our Medicare payment transaction system and that will take place while we continue to build out the online functionality to make this a more automated process."

Saying only that she expected enrollment to increase in November, Bataille would not confirm several media reports that the federal marketplace enrolled 100,000 people in November.

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