Obama, Dems Focus on Obamacare Website's 'Significant Improvements'

December 3, 2013 - 9:43 AM

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White House (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - President Obama on Tuesday afternoon will resume his Obamacare sales job, trying to move Americans past the website's inadequacies to refocus on what he deems to be the law's successes. He's scheduled to speak at 2:30 p.m.

On Monday -- the administration's deadline for improvements to the healthcare.gov website -- Democrats reached for slivers of good news about its functionality.

"The president believes that the site has been significantly improved and that the teams in place have worked 24/7 for weeks now to make those improvements, including significant improvements that were made over the weekend. But the work is not done," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Monday.

As we've been saying for some time, there would be continuing, you know, issues that we needed to address, and we'll continue to do that."

One of the concerns is the transmittal of subscribers' information to the insurance companies that must issue the policies. As CNSNews.com reported, Carney indicated it is up to subscribers to make sure they've paid their premiums and are truly signed up for the insurance they think they're getting.

Carney said that with the recent improvements, "we believe that the website is and will function effectively for the vast majority of users. And each day we will continue to take steps to make further improvements, so that that experience is enhanced for users every day."

Carney said that as of noon on Monday, healthcare.gov had logged 375,000 visitors, well over its current estimated 50,000 maximum capacity.

He also noted that the website now has an improved "queuing system," which allows would-be visitors to leave an email address so the system can contact them when the enrollment function is not so busy.

"But look, what we have said all along about the November 30th, December 1st, December 2nd deadline is that this was a marker along the road towards the progress we need to make; that by November 30th, December 1st, we would see the system -- the healthcare.gov website working effectively for the vast majority of users. But the work is not done and it will continue. And, you know, we will continue to make improvements. We continue to have, you know, folks working around the clock on the site to make it more and more effective every day."

'Process of continuous improvement'

David Simas, a deputy senior adviser for communications at the White House, told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell on Monday that the website "is going to be a process of continuous improvement."

"Compared to where we were in early October, as Jeff (Zients) said yesterday, it is night and day to the point where we can handle a certain number of concurrent users. We're monitoring to make sure the system is stable, that the response times are good, that the error rates are continuously going down.

"We've set up a queuing system for those instances where there's overwhelming volume onto the system to better manage the flow. We've set up a new, anonymous shopping right on the homepage of healthcare.gov so people can look at plans in a much more comprehensive way before they go on. But on an ongoing basis, this is a process where, based on what we learn, we continue to make these improvements.

"So by the time we get to the end of open enrollment on March 31st, as many people as want to sign up for some affordable health care can do that."

Simas pointed several times to the experience in Massachusetts, where younger people waited until the last minute to sign up for state-mandated health insurance.

"We're going to be very, very aggressive in reaching out to different populations throughout this process to make sure that there's a good mix. One final point on this. When the law was drafted, there were a number of provisions that were put in place to make sure that risk was really smoothed out. There's reinsurance, there's a risk corridor, there's a risk pool and adjustments that are very, very complicated to get into. But essentially, it was understood that this was going to be a multi-year process with different smoothing out and ways to manage risk and manage premiums in a way that works for everybody.

"So we're at the early stage of the open enrollment. We're at the early stage of understanding how this is going to play out. But, look, yesterday we crossed an important milestone. It's night and day improvement. We're going to continue to improve because, at the end of the day, this is about making sure that anyone that wants quality health insurance can get it at an affordable price."

Not a 'magic moment'

Rep. Chris Van Hollen told Andrea Mitchell that the recent website  improvements are "a very important step forward."

"The administration did hit the benchmarks that it set out, the main ones, the 50,000 consumers at one time and --

"It's a pretty low benchmark, though," Mitchell interrupted.

"Well, it was -- you're right to the extent that this was supposed to be the way the system operated on day one. And so, obviously, we had a very bumpy rollout. And to your question, look, the work can't stop yesterday. I mean, they're going to have to be working 24/7 to work on some of the issues at back end.

"We know that there are currently going to be some issues with the relay of information to the insurance companies to make sure that people are signed up. So this is not an end point. This is not, as they've said, a magic moment. But it is good news for consumers.

"And now they've just got to make sure they keep their foot on the accelerator in terms of fixing the website because what we do know, Andrea, is, in those states like California and New York and Kentucky where the websites -- where the websites are operating smoothly, people are able to buy these products and they're liking what they see."