HealthCare.gov has been criticized for lacking a “shop and browse” feature that was easily accessible to consumers from the start, which Bataille referred to only as a “CMS business decision.” A number of state-run exchanges around the country have rolled out more smoothly and have allowed consumers to shop and compare plans without having to first create a personal account.
Meanwhile, Bataille did not answer directly whether HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius knew of any technical problems before the launch, saying instead that no one could have predicted the high volume of consumer demand for health insurance. She emphasized that the federal data hub used to determine eligibility for federal premium subsidies is working “just as it should,” and also said the agency is excited about its current “tech surge” that will rely on the guidance and expertise from the some of the country's leading problem solvers.
Those problem solvers include Jeffrey Zients, the businessman who served as acting director of the Office of Management and Budget from January 2012 until April 2013 and will succeed Gene Sperling as director of the National Economic Council in January. Bataille did not provide more information about the other experts the administration will rely on in the tech surge—and at what cost.
Three weeks into the 26-week open-enrollment period that lasts until March 31, 2014, Bataille did not provide enrollment figures but said that nearly 700,000 applications have been completed on the federal online exchange. That means those consumers made it to the point in the registration process where they could determine whether they are eligible for Medicaid or a premium subsidy on the exchanges and could begin shopping. Meanwhile, the CMS's customer service representatives have received 1.6 million calls, including 100,000 calls after President Barack Obama announced the phone number in his remarks from the White House on Monday.
“We are seeing many more consumers successfully creating their accounts and moving on to the plan selection process,” Bataille said. “Our priority now is to fix the bugs so that people can move more quickly” through the system.
Bataille could not answer how many consumers tried to sign up and failed due to problems, but she said that about one-third of the traffic to the site is from people who want educational content and information, while the remaining two-thirds represent those consumers who are actively looking to shop on the marketplace.
At the end of the briefing, Bataille echoed a statement that the vice president of contractor CGI Federal made earlier Thursday at the House Energy and Commerce hearing.
“We are confident consumers will be able to enroll certainly by Dec. 15 for that first coverage in January,” she said. She also said HHS is working on guidance about the administration's decision to allow consumers an additional six weeks to have coverage or else face a penalty and expects “to issue something soon.”