Following an embarrassing start for the rollout of the Affordable Care Act's enrollment period, the White House is in deep damage control mode. Ever since the insurance marketplaces opened online for business on Oct. 1, prospective consumers have complained that the website is fraught with technical difficulties.
President Obama declared Monday morning that nobody is madder or more frustrated by the glitches than he is and vowed they would be fixed. Later that day, a senior White House official briefed a small group of reporters on the cure.
Part of the problem, the official said, is that the system was unable to handle the large number of people trying to access the site, which created a "traffic jam" that led to users being placed on hold in a virtual waiting room. The waiting room has been closed, which should help the process move forward more quickly.
In response to the low number of people who've tried to access the site and who've enrolled, the official said that it's still early days and that the administration had anticipated a slow start since benefits don't begin until January
"We expected numbers to pick up in November, spike in December prior to benefits beginning in January, a drop off in January, a leveling off in February and spike in March because of the close of the enrollment and a trigger of the responsibility requirement," the official said.
The official also said that when Massachusetts universal health care program signed into law by then-governor Mitt Romney was first launched, just 123 paying customers signed up.
The administration has increased the number of representatives manning call centers by 50 percent. It also will deploy cabinet members across the nation, primarily to urban areas, to drive its on-the-ground campaign to promote the health care law and encourage people to sign up. In addition, the navigators and assistors have been undergoing training to better manage the site.
On the technical side, the official said, IT experts have been hired to work around the clock to fix problems already reported and conduct a "top-to-bottom" diagnostic test of the system to determine what else could go wrong and make the necessary repairs.
"Bottom line: the first three weeks in terms of healthcare.gov does not meet expectations, full stop. The good news is we have five-and-a-half months of enrollment" to get prepared for increased activity on the site, particularly in November.
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(Photo: CREUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)