By Joseph Conn, Crain News Service
WASHINGTON (Nov. 26, 2013) — Even as the federal Web portal for health plan enrollment under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act continues to sputter, a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) spokeswoman stuck to the Obama administration's line that the troubled HealthCare.gov website will be operating smoothly for a "vast majority" of applicants by Nov. 30.
The website, which launched Oct. 1 and has been lurching ever since, was down for the count for three hours one afternoon last week and crashed for about 5 minutes the day before that due to problems with "back-end functionality," according to Julie Bataille, director of the office of communications for the CMS.
What caused the latest crashes?
"I would describe it as access to our data center and connectivity to the network," Ms. Bataille told reporters on a conference call Nov. 21. But on the evening of Nov. 20, she said, government programmers made a number of fixes to the system aimed at improving user experience as well as the workflows of call-center representatives who assist consumers with enrollment through the site.
One upgrade Ms. Bataille mentioned would enable a call center rep to move directly to the section for health plan selection without having to scroll through the application process from the beginning.
Ms. Bataille said developers have improved the ability of the site to communicate to health insurers that a potential enrollee's previously selected health plan had been canceled by the consumer, which had been a source of glitches previously. These enrollment and cancellation transactions are performed using a special, federally customized version of the ASC X12 834 electronic benefits enrollment standard.
"That fix is now in place," Ms. Bataille said.
The specialized 834 communications between the federal website and health plans have been cited by experts, including during testimony at congressional hearings, as common trouble spots with HealthCare.gov.
Asked about a "Plan B" should the website continue to falter beyond the government's self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline, Ms. Bataille reiterated earlier refrains that the website repair crew is "on track" so that "the vast majority of users" will be able to access the site smoothly by the end of the month.
"We will continue to provide updates in the coming days what consumers can expect as to improvements to the site, provide metrics, progress and what consumers can expect in the weeks ahead," Ms. Bataille said.
This report appeared in Modern Healthcare magazine, a Chicago-based sister publication of Tire Business.