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Worst of glitches fixed on HealthCare.gov site

This beleaguered HealthCare.gov website has had periods of down time as the government worked to fix problems. Jon Elswick/The Associated Press

This beleaguered HealthCare.gov website has had periods of down time as the government worked to fix problems. Jon Elswick/The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The worst of the online glitches, crashes and delays may be over for the problem-plagued government health care website, the Department of Health and Human Services said Sunday.

But that doesn’t mean HealthCare.gov is ready for a clean bill of health.

Officials acknowledged more work remains on the website that included hundreds of software bugs, inadequate equipment and inefficient management for its national debut two months ago. Federal workers and private contractors have undertaken an intense reworking of the system, but some users could still encounter trouble.

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More than 50,000 people can log on to the website at one time and more than 800,000 people will be able to shop for insurance coverage each day, the government estimated in a report released Sunday. If true, it’s a dramatic improvement from the system’s first weeks, when frustrated buyers watched their computer screen freeze and the website crash.

The figures – which could not be independently verified – suggest millions of Americans could turn to their laptops to shop for and buy insurance policies by the Dec. 23 deadline.

“There’s not really any way to verify from the outside that the vast majority of people who want to enroll can now do so, but we’ll find out at least anecdotally over the coming days if the system can handle the traffic and provide a smooth experience for people trying to sign up,” said Larry Levitt, a senior adviser at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But, he added, HealthCare.gov is clearly working better than when it first went online. Its challenge now is to convince frustrated users to give it another chance.

Politically, a fixed website could also offer a fresh start for President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats after a wave of bad publicity surrounding the president’s chief domestic achievement.

HealthCare.gov was envisioned as the principal place for people in 36 states to buy insurance under Obama’s health care law. But its first few weeks were an embarrassment for the administration and its allies.

Obama set Saturday as the deadline to fix several significant problems and the administration organized a conference call with reporters Sunday morning to boast that 400 technical problems had been resolved. Officials, however, declined to say how many items remain on the to-do list.

Even with the repairs in place, the site still won’t be able to do everything the administration wants, and companion sites for small businesses and Spanish speakers have been delayed. Questions remain about the stability of the site and the quality of the data it delivers to insurers.

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“The security of this site and the private information does not meet even the minimal standards of the private sector, and that concerns me,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who leads the House intelligence panel. “I don’t care if you’re for it or against it, Republican or Democrat, we should not tolerate the sheer level of incompetence securing this site.”

The department reported the website was up and running 95 percent of the time last week – meaning a 1-in-20 chance remains of encountering a broken website. The government also estimated that pages crashed at a rate less than once every 100 clicks.

The nation’s largest health insurer trade group said significant problems remain and could be a barrier for consumers signing up for coverage effective Jan. 1.

The first big test of the repaired website probably won’t come for a few more weeks, when an enrollment surge is expected as consumers rush to meet a Dec. 23 deadline so their coverage can kick in on the first of the year.

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