by Frederick H. Lowe
HealthCare.gov, the federal government’s online health-insurance marketplace, can handle 50,000 simultaneous users or 800,000 consumer visits per day after technicians fixed or replaced hardware and software that caused the website to freeze or crash.
The glitches embarrassed President Barack Obama and forced him to apologize and retract some of his earlier statements about the Affordable Care Act, his signature piece of legislation. At the same time, HealthCare.gov’s troubles rallied Republicans who had been pushing for repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The Department of Health and Human Services reported on Sunday that HealthCare.gov’s uptime is consistently above 90 percent, compared to an uptime of only 42.9 percent for the week ending November 2. The average visitor spends 20 to 30 minutes on HealthCare.gov, selecting a health insurance plan. The four distinct plans offered are categorized as Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
“Uptime improved 71.9 percent by November 9th , and has been consistently above 90 percent since then, including 95 percent uptime this past week,” Julie Bataille, spokesperson for the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said in a news release, titled “HHS.gov Digital Strategy: Operational Progress Report.”
“Again, this improvement in stability is driven by the hardware and software fixes, and we expect to see further improvements given the redundancy and capacity we’ve added to the system.”
When HealthCare. gov launched October 1, numerous software glitches prevented individuals from buying health insurance online. President Obama ordered the website fixed by November 30. He also apologized for its inadequate performance.
Medicare & Medicaid Services hired Quality Software Services Inc. of Columbia, Md., as the general contractor and systems integrator. The company, which is called QSSI, is owned by UnitedHealth Group. Jeffrey Zients was named the administration official overseeing the improvements.
Medicare & Medicaid Services and QSSI instituted a new management structure. According to the government, the new team fixed more than 400 bugs, including 50 that were completed November 30. Technicians also eliminated critical glitches, improving the consumers’ experience on HealthCare.gov.
In addition, technicians also improved the front-end of the system that allowed consumers to register for health insurance. In addition, QSSI and Medicare & Medicaid Services added 12 large dedicated servers and upgraded the firewall that protects the system.
As a result, the HealthCare.gov’s error rates or per page system time outs or failures dropped from 6 percent in October to .75 percent as of November 30.
“The bottom line—HealthCare.gov on December 1st is night and day from where it was on October 1st,” Zients said.
Although, the website has increased capacity, Bataille warned there could be times when it might be insufficient to handle peaks in simultaneous demand.
Some 44 million individuals, including 6.8 million African Americans, lack health insurance coverage.
Individuals who apply cannot be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition, such as diabetes, high-blood pressure or a heart condition.