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With website ‘fixed,’ time for Obamacare’s next problems

A man looks over the Affordable Care Act signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this Oct. 2, 2013 photo.
MIKE SEGAR | REUTERS
A man looks over the Affordable Care Act signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this Oct. 2, 2013 photo.
Posted Dec. 04, 2013, at 1:38 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 04, 2013, at 2:14 p.m.

The federal government says HealthCare.gov is now working for “the vast majority of users.” Now comes the more important part.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has plenty of numbers to back up its claim that the website is mended. It cites more than 400 bug fixes, pages that load in one second (down from eight) and crash less than 1 percent of the time (down from 6 percent), and a website that’s functioning more than 90 percent of the time, up from 43 percent a month ago. The site can now handle a reported 50,000 users at once, twice as many as two weeks ago, and as many as 800,000 a day can now sign up through the site.

Those figures call for both praise and criticism. The quick improvements may be impressive, but they also cast the failure to prepare the site for its Oct. 1 debut in an even harsher light. President Barack Obama can no longer claim that the three years since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became law wasn’t enough time to build a functioning website.

But the software repair measurements miss the crucial metric: the number of people who sign up for health insurance on the federal exchange. The test of the HealthCare.gov fixes will be the extent to which they accelerate those sign-ups, which reportedly reached 100,000 in November.

If that sounds like a lot, remember that the Congressional Budget Office projected 7 million people would enroll for 2014.

And that’s only half the challenge. The purpose of HealthCare.gov isn’t just to let people shop for health coverage; it must also transmit consumers’ information to insurance companies. The government won’t say how much of that information is still inaccurate, incomplete or simply getting lost in transmission. Meanwhile, the part of the website that processes payments to insurers has yet to be built at all.

That could be a bigger problem than website pages that load slowly. Insurers have raised the prospect of people going to a doctor or hospital next year only to find out that they’re not signed up for the health plan they thought covered them. Or what if people end up buying coverage based on a federal subsidy that turns out to have been miscalculated? If Democrats think the past two months were unpleasant, just wait.

The road ahead still points toward greater health security for Americans, and it’s still worth traveling. But let’s not pretend the obstacles are behind us.

Bloomberg News (Dec. 3)

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