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Is healthcare.gov really fixed?

A woman looks at the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange internet site.

It’s far from "Mission Accomplished," but in a conference call with reporters yesterday, federal officials said healthcare.gov -- the website for people to buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act -- is functional more than 90 percent of the time.

According to a new report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the site’s performance is up. The error rate, the number of times the pages would crash, has dropped from 6 percent a few weeks ago, to less than 1 percent today. And it’s quicker -- at the end of October, consumers were waiting about 8 seconds for a page to load, now it’s under 1. But the big thing is that now lots of people can be on the site at the same time -- up to 50,000 -- and the site doesn't crash, which means it can handle about 800,000 visitors a day.

But consumer use is just half the equation. There have been reports of so-called back end troubles, where insurers can’t get the information they need to complete enrollments.

In the call yesterday, officials said over the holiday weekend they put in some patches and upgrades to deal with some of those problems. Insurers are saying some consumers believe they’ve bought plans on healthcare.gov but the company can’t find any record of it. In other instances, key information is missing -- like how much federal subsidy someone should receive, so insurers don’t know how much to charge. It’s a mess and could only get worse at the start of the new year.

New insurance policies kick in on January 1, 2013 for people who sign up by December 23.

While CMS has made upgrades, one of the biggest changes appears to be management. Administration officials are now holding war room meetings twice a day to monitor problems in real time. The hope is this new structure -- and more time to focus on back end problems, now that the front end is doing better -- will help them to drill down and get the bottom of the problems. 

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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