White House Confident Insurance Website Is Working Better

In this, the first week of December, the Obama administration says it has met its self-imposed deadline of fixing the troubled healthcare.gov web site. And it says people should be able to sign up for health insurance. So, is it fixed and when will we know for sure?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. President Obama's administration insists it met a self-imposed deadline to fix HealthCare.gov.

MONTAGNE: Problems with the website turned the unveiling of the new health insurance marketplaces into a disaster. Now, the administration's troubleshooter, Jeffrey Zients, says the website is better.

JEFFREY ZIENTS: The bottom line? HealthCare.gov on Dec. 1st is night and day from where it was on Oct. 1st.

INSKEEP: That's what he said over the weekend. We'll learn in the coming days if it's working well enough.

And let's start our coverage with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, who's on the line. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: I notice he says it's very different than it was in October. He didn't say it's working perfectly all the time.

LIASSON: No. Yesterday in a briefing for reporters, he said it's working 90 percent of the time. Now the administration says the website can handle 50,000 people at a time, which means about 800,000 people a day. They've put out some other metrics. They say they've fixed more than 400 bugs; pages on the site now load in generally less than a second, compared to about eight seconds in October. So that's on the consumer end of the website.

They're still working on problems on the backend, getting accurate information about who's actually signed up to the insurers so that when someone shows up at the doctor's office, they don't get told they're not covered.

The other things they said they've fixed are the root causes of the problem and they listed that as poor monitoring, bad hardware, slow decision-making and unclear lines of authority and accountability. That was quite a list.

INSKEEP: Well, how do they get people to return to this website now and try it again?

LIASSON: Well, there were huge, elaborate advertising campaigns planned by the administration, the insurance companies, advocate groups like Enroll America. They were planning to not just advertise but use social media. Many of those campaigns were suspended because of the website problems - they don't want to drive millions of people to go try to buy a product that's not available. So now all of those campaigns are going to begin again to try to get people to sign up. And many of those people need insurance by the end of this year.

INSKEEP: OK, that's what they're hoping for, that people go back to the website and try again because they want the product. That's what the administration believes.

How do you measure now if the system is working?

LIASSON: Well, we'll know in the next couple of months. By the end of March they need - their goal is to get seven million people signed up. And not just seven million people, but the right mix of seven million people. They need enough young healthy people - probably around 35 percent - so that the site just doesn't have older, sicker people signing up. Because that is the way you make any insurance risk pool work.

We've heard different anecdotes. Early on we had heard that young people were signing up in much smaller numbers than they'd expected. Now we're hearing that that's picked up. And the numbers of young people who are signing up is pretty good. But it's going to take several months to know if this is actually working.

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