Healthcare Business News shutting down for weekend repairs

By Joseph Conn
Posted: November 8, 2013 - 3:45 pm ET

The glitch-ridden and crash-prone website will be partially disabled Saturday night and won't be fully operational until early Tuesday morning to allow technicians to work on a component that's used to verify an enrollee's income.

When the Internal Revenue Service's portion of the site is taken down, income verification will be unavailable, CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille said. As a result, users of the rest of the site during that period will still be able to shop and apply for coverage, but “they will not immediately receive eligibility determination,” Bataille said.

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Instead, they will “have to save their application and continue on Tuesday” when the IRS component is scheduled to come back up.

The website was launched Oct. 1 as the portal for millions of Americans in 26 states to sign up for health insurance coverage, either through state Medicaid programs, or through private sector insurance carriers, under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Jeffrey Zients, the man President Barack Obama appointed to troubleshoot, said progress was made this week fixing some of the most prominent items on a three-tiered “punch list” of problems.

But those fixes enabled the system to handle more volume and exposed new “roadblocks” in the form of “new storage capacity and software application issues” deeper into the site, he said.

The net result was “very sporadic and inconsistent” site behavior throughout the week,” Zients said. Still, he said, “We're making good progress on the punch list overall. The site is getting better each week.”

Bataille declined to provide enrollment figures but reiterated the White House's promise to release them next week.

Zients did disclose two operational metrics for the site, response time and error rate.

Response time—how fast the system responds to a user's request—has improved, he said. In its first few weeks of operation, the site made users wait eight seconds on average for a page to load, “clearly an unacceptable rate,” he said. Now, he said, that time has been cut to “well below” one second.

Meanwhile, the error rate, a measure of how frequently the system prevents a user from moving to the next page—often accompanied by an error message—was higher than 6% a few weeks ago, Zients said. “We're now under 2%,” he said.

When asked if the site developers have a metric to measure what percentage of would-be applicants who start the process actually complete it, Zients instead spoke again about “driving down error rates” and “driving down response rates.”

Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn

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