The Key Test For Is The Part You Can't See : All Tech Considered The part of that consumers see is working more smoothly, but it's unclear how well the invisible back end is working.
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The Key Test For Is The Part You Can't See

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The Key Test For Is The Part You Can't See

The Key Test For Is The Part You Can't See

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ARUN RATH, HOST: is, quote, "night and day" from where it was when it was launched on October 1st. That's according to the Obama administration, which says it has met its goal of getting the troubled site working for a vast majority of users by this weekend.

NPR's Elise Hu takes a closer look at the challenges that still lie ahead.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: The eight-page progress report released today confirms with numbers just how broken the system was in October. Metrics released by the administration show that in October, only 30 percent of consumers could get all the way through the online application process for the federal insurance exchange. Now, after nine weeks of furious fixes...

JULIE BATAILLE: Today, we're now more in the zone of about 80 percent of users being able to do that same process successfully.

HU: That's Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Julie Bataille. She says the system is far more stable. Response times have fallen to less than a second, and the system capacity now allows for 50,000 people to use the site at the same time. That's the original goal for October 1st.

Jeffrey Zients is the chief fixer.

JEFFREY ZIENTS: It's really the series of significant hardware enhancements that have been made across the last several weeks that have increased the redundancy, the reliability and the scale.

KENDALYN THUMA: They said it was fixed, so I'm going to give it another shot.

HU: Michigan-based Kendalyn Thuma has been trying to get through the enrollment process since mid-October. She tried again this morning.

THUMA: Says my application was received and processed, and that I can view my results. And before, it always got stuck right here.

HU: Thuma and other consumers we checked in with report a smoother overall experience, but not a perfect one. An enrollment button shows up near the end of Thuma's registration process, but she still can't see which subsidies she might be eligible for.

THUMA: So if I click on view eligibility results, I just don't get anything. And I'm going to stop trying probably. I have tried on different browsers.

HU: To put things in perspective, we called John Engates.

JOHN ENGATES: Everything is relative. I mean, this is a site that has been plagued with problems from the outset.

HU: Engates is chief technology officer at the server and software company Rackspace. He's also one of the few outside engineers who's seen the command center from the inside.

ENGATES: I think what they focused on to a large extent is the consumer's view from the outside looking into this website. I don't necessarily think they've gotten all of the behind-the-scenes connections to the health insurance providers and all of the work that needs to go on behind the scenes to really take this to the finish line. I don't know if that's all done yet.

HU: We don't know either. The data on how well the back end is getting clean enrollment forms to insurers is something that wasn't part of this weekend's progress report. Again, Julie Bataille.

BATAILLE: We are working with issuers on a regular basis, getting daily feedback from them, and will continue that conversation.

HU: The conversations will need to happen quickly, as a December deadline draws near for those who want coverage to start in January. December is also when the chief fixer, Zients, is expected to leave his role. So big questions remain. While outside tech experts like Engates say the site's front end that consumers can see is dramatically improved, that's actually the easy part.

ENGATES: The easy part is to put your data into the system. The hard part is to now go and process all of that and make sure you have health care coverage. The government has to really deliver on that or else the whole thing is for naught. I mean, we really have to have a system that works from end to end or it really isn't a system.

HU: Whether the full system works as intended will be the crucial test going forward. Elise Hu, NPR News, Washington.

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