While holiday shoppers rushed to score Cyber Monday deals, they also made their way over to HealthCare.gov, the Obama administration announced this week. However, problems remain for those seeking coverage by the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline.
Between the hours of midnight and noon, the federal exchange website experienced a much needed traffic surge of 375,000 visitors. By 5:30, the website had logged 750,000 users—a signal that Americans take seriously the White House’s declaration that the embattled exchange is now better able to meet users’ needs, spokesman Jay Carney emphasized in a press conference.
In a separate briefing, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokeswoman Julie Bataille said the traffic surge is about twice as high as what HealthCare.gov had been averaging during the same period on Mondays. Currently, the site is said to be able to handle 800,000 daily users.
Bataille attributed the success to a new feature on the site called a “queue,” or “waiting room system,” which requires users attempting to access HealthCare.gov during peak traffic times to wait before accessing plan comparisons. By limiting traffic flow, the enrollment tools are better protected, she said.
Despite the improvement, however, some have expressed concerns that the site will not be able to handle the waves of visitors attempting to meet the Dec. 23 deadline for coverage beginning Jan. 1. Tech specialists also fear the repairs still needed on the Obamacare system will create further problems for healthcare shoppers next year.
“The real challenges remain, and that’s downstream,” Rick Howard, research director for the technology consultant Gartner told Reuters. “The real error rate will be in the billing transactions and how accurate the billing information is and how accurate the premium calculation is.”
The White House said it is attempting to work with insurance carriers and healthcare officials to handle the logistics of insurance payments, including federal subsidies.
Some carriers are taking matters into their own hands, however, by participating in a pilot program that would allow insurers to calculate subsidies and enroll clients eligible for those subsidies directly—permitting them to bypass HealthCare.gov altogether.
Sixteen insurers in three states are considering participation in the direct-enrollment pilot program, CMS officials confirmed Sunday. Whether the pilot program will be successful enough to divert some of HealthCare.gov’s traffic burden, however, remains to be seen.