Politics

Officials claim partial repair of Obamacare website, fail to meet user success target

Neil Munro White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama’s deputies are claiming they have successfully reincarnated the Obamacare network’s website.

“Twenty-four hours a day, we have rapid effectives response to any problems the instant they appear,” Jeff Zients, a top Obama advisor, told reporters during a Sunday morning press conference. “The site is now stable and operating at its intended capacity.”

But the stage-managed focus on the website drags the media’s attention away from the actual impact of Obamacare. So far, Obama’s centrally-planned healthcare system has cancelled insurance policies needed by at least 4 million Americans, and is imposing heavy health-care taxes on many Americans, companies, unions and hospitals.

The claims of technical success are also questionable.

Zients declined to answer some awkward questions during the Sunday morning press conference. For example, he declined to compare the website’s error rate to the error rate of commercial websites, such as Amazon.com.

Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, declined to say they have met the administration’s November goal of allowing four out of five visitors to enroll on the site. “We’re more in the zone of about 80 percent,” she said, for people “with information in hand.” That measure excludes people who have not gathered the personal data demanded by the website, such as income estimates and tax records, she said.

Zients didn’t mention growing concern about the danger that hackers could steal Americans’ private data as it is processed by the Obamacare website, and he downplayed managers’ failure to develop vital software that links website transactions to the databases and billing systems operated by health insurance companies.

He also downplayed his central role in the rejuvenation effort, fueling expectations that he will leave in January. Prior to October, Obama announced Zients would become the director of the National Economic Council in January. “My head is down. I’m focused on the project 24/7,” Zients told reporters.

The officials also declined to identity the website as the “Obamacare” website, reflecting the administration’s post-October effort to distance the president’s name from the unpopular system.

The failed website is proving to be a PR, political and technical headache for Obama, who had hoped prior to October that he could enroll at least 7 million people into his network by March.

Several million Americans whose policies have been cancelled must enroll during the next 23 days, or else begin 2014 without insurance. (RELATED: Health insurance cancellation notices soar above Obamacare enrollment rates)

The system enrolled only 27,000 people in commercial health-plans during October, partly because of the failed website, but also because of the network’s high prices.

The new enrollees are also skewing older and sicker than needed, according to leaks from industry officials and to statements from state officials. That’s problematic, because prices will spike again for Obamacare’s customers in late 2014 if too few young people refuse to join the Obamacare network, despite the threat of large federal fines.

Obama’s effort to redesign the nation’s healthcare system has prompted a backlash from many influential middle class voters, driving his approval ratings down from roughly 50 percent to 40 percent, and threatening many Democratic legislators with defeat in the 2014 midterm elections. (RELATED: Obama schedules five fundraisers on West Coast as approval rate plummets)

The administration’s claims of success were showcased in a Dec. 1 report, titled “Healthcare.gov Progress and Performance Report.”

The graphics-filled report claims that software experts have repaired 400 software glitches, added much increased processing capacity, and have enabled visitors to click through to their next webpage after less than one second, compared to an eight-second delay in early October.

The website is operational 90 percent of the day, compared to 42 percent in early November, the report states. But that’s far below the operational rate at commercial sites.

Users spend an average 25 minutes per visit, allowing 50,000 people to use the site simultaneously, claims the report.

“We believe we have met the goal of having a system that will work smoothly for the vast majority of users,” the report concludes.

That vague  goal was set in November, when Obama’s deputies ramped up their technical repair efforts and their PR campaign.

In recent days, officials have have arranged closed briefings for favored reporters and industry experts, and showcased their command center at an office building in northern Virginia. (RELATED: White House holds Obamacare background briefing with liberal reporters)

They’ve also deployed new P.R. phrases and terms during the last few weeks. “The language that we have used to describe the circumstance that we’re expecting is that the website will be functioning smoothly for the vast majority of users,” Josh Earnest, the president’s deputy press secretary said Nov. 21.

To help the website’s rejuvenation efforts, Obama has postponed once-critical functions, such as the creation of an enrollment capacity  for the small-scale employers, and a Spanish-language website intended to enroll Democratic-leaning Latino voters.

Prior to October, Obama dropped enforcement of large section of the 2010 Obamacare law, including a requirement that large private-sector employers buy Obamacare compliant healthcare plans for their employees before 2014.

His deputies are also showcasing isolated individuals who gain from the Obamacare system, which imposes heavy and hidden taxes on middle-income and younger people to subsidize insurance for Democratic-leaning constituencies, including poor people, Latinos and African Americans.

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