CMS: ‘Night and Day’ from Where It Was in October

by Patrick Brennan

Jeffrey Zients, the former budget director whom President Obama chose to help fix the problems with, the federal health-insurance exchange, announced this morning that his team has made more than 400 to the site (50 just last night), and claimed they reached at least one December 1 goal — 80 percent of users can enroll through the site — but that they do still see problems. As a report released this morning from HHS shows, the website’s error rate is approximately 0.75 percent, down from 6 percent, and the site is up about 90 percent of the time, up from 43 percent in October — which sounds impressive, but doesn’t meet some of the White House’s goals, such as a 0.5 percent error rate.

“Bottom line, on December 1, is night and day from where it was on October 1,” he said, which anyone will admit is not saying much. He claimed that the site can now “support its intended volumes,” 50,000 simultaneous users at a time. Based on the average user’s spending 20 to 30 minutes on the site, CMS predicts that 800,000 customers can access the website per day. Zients declined to explain whether this capacity or the error rates compares favorably with private-sector sites. The report does highlight the claim that the website team, not the website itself, “is operating with private sector velocity and effectiveness” (that would be the team composed of private-sector contractors).

Some of the accomplishments the report cites seem essentially meaningless, such as the raw number of 400 fixes it depicts in this chart:

But “there will be times, even with this increased capacity, that even this increased capacity will not be sufficient” to meet demand, Zients said. Thus, he explained, “we’ll deploy a new queuing system, to allow consumers to request e-mail notification” telling them when to come back at a less busy time, describing it as a “consumer friendly” way to address the overloaded system. “We’ve widened the system’s on-ramp — it now has four lanes, rather than one or two,” Zients said, but even that might not be quite enough.

Significant problems have also plagued the “back end” of the website, which enrolls purchasers in insurance plans and communicates with insurers, but CMS communications director Julie Bataille said that fixes made to the site this weekend especially focused on those issues. The system the federal government will use to send subsidies to insurers will not be completed until spring 2014.

You can read the report (which isn’t quite as slick as you’d expect from a former Bain man like Zients) here.

The Corner

The one and only.