WASHINGTON — The HealthCare.gov website, the federal exchange where Americans can shop for health insurance, went through its first week without outages and provided users with faster response times, President Obama's appointee to lead the fixes to the site said Friday.
"We had no problems this week," said Jeffrey Zients, whom Obama named to the fix the problems that have plagued the site since it opened Oct. 1. Along with the lack of outages, response time for more users dropped to less than one second, Zients said.
"This week, we've driven the error rate down to 1 percent," Zients said.
Volume at the site "increased significantly," Zients said, but the site can only handle 20,000 to 25,000 people "comfortably" at the same time.
The website must be able to handle tens of thousands prospective insurance customers at the same time if they are to meet the Dec. 15 deadline to buy health insurance that starts on Jan. 1 or by March 31 to meet the deadline to avoid paying a penalty for not having health insurance.
On Wednesday, the Obama administration reported that slightly less than 27,000 people selected private insurance on the site between Oct. 1 and Nov. 2.
Repair technicians will spend the weekend increasing the site's capacity to enable more people to use it simultaneously, Zients said.
"The site has gotten better each week," Zients said. "A lot of people are on the site and using the site and should continue to do so."
Problems with the site have slowed the ability of many Americans who received notices that their individual market policies had been canceled to shop for alternatives. On Thursday, Obama said the Health and Human Services Department would allow people to keep those policies for another year if insurance companies and state insurance commissioners approved. The House voted Friday for a bill that would allow people to keep those policies, but Obama has threatened to veto it because it would undermine parts of the Affordable Care Act.
Zients said technicians this week completed 60 fixes on the software "punch list" of problems and there are another 50 more on the priority list for the weekend.
"In total, we have now crossed more than 200 bug fixes off our punch list," he said. He repeated a promise made by Obama and other White House officials that the site will be "working smoothly for the vast majority of users" by Nov. 30.
Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said they have also begun contacting states with Medicaid eligibility information for people who have come through the federal site.
Bataille also said people who choose to buy an old insurance plan that does not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act would qualify for the requirement to buy health insurance and would not have to pay a penalty.