Though many political and implementation hurdles remain on the horizon, White House officials seem increasingly confident that the website malfunctions that plagued the Affordable Care Act's rollout are behind them.
There’s reason for relief. The deadline to enroll in a health care plan that provided coverage starting Jan. 1 led to a crush of visitors to HealthCare.gov, and the website performed better than expected.
According to data points being circulated within the administration and sent to The Huffington Post, "nearly two million" people visited the site on Dec. 23, with a peak moment of concurrent usage by 83,000 people at approximately noon. Both numbers exceeded administration officials' predictions after the site's much-heralded tech upgrade concluded Dec. 1. At that time, officials said the site could handle 50,000 visitors at once and 800,000 over the course of a day.
Indeed, the website’s queuing system had to be deployed on Dec. 23 so that overwhelmed servers didn’t muck up the experience for everyone else. But the queuing system worked well. The average wait time was 7 minutes, according to the data provided, and users were given the option of receiving an email to let them know when the site had become less crowded.
All told, “129,000 individuals provided emails on Monday to our queuing system and were invited back the same day to complete their applications,” according to the data. In addition, some 250,000 calls were placed to health care call centers that day.
Dec. 23 was initially the deadline to purchase a plan that began New Year's Day, but that deadline was eventually pushed forward by one day. On Dec. 24, the traffic to HealthCare.gov was less intense but still strong, with 880,000 site visits. The queuing system did not need to be deployed.
What this means for the health care reform effort overall is hard to state. Just because there was a lot of traffic to the site doesn’t necessarily mean more people than expected enrolled in health insurance, though the early chatter from inside the administration is that officials are happy with the numbers. Moreover, there is still some concern about whether the website is generating solid information in its backend –- the so-called 834 forms that allow insurers to properly document those who have purchased plans.
At a briefing before the Christmas break, senior administration officials said the insurance companies themselves were working with consumers to clean up the “bad data” they'd received and that “fewer than 1 percent of all the transactions that we have done since Dec. 1” had missing pages.
As a technical matter, at least, the White House does seem to have moved past a major obstacle. The website is clearly doing better than it was when it launched, and its performance is evidently exceeding the administration's expectations.
This article was updated to reflect that the average wait time for those placed in the website's queuing system was 7 minutes on Dec. 23, not 3 to 5 minutes as the White House data points stated.