Program management

HealthCare.gov gears up for last-minute surge

HealthCare.gov screen shot from October 2013

As an important enrollment deadline approaches, the tech team working on HealthCare.gov is taking steps to avoid the bottlenecks that plagued the site in the weeks after its October 2013 debut.

The initial open-enrollment period for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act is set to end March 31, with some exceptions. As the deadline approaches, the tech team responsible for fixing the site after its disastrous Oct. 1, 2013, launch has been adding capacity in anticipation of a surge of users to equal or exceed the traffic seen at the December deadline for January coverage.

HealthCare.gov is now equipped to handle 100,000 concurrent users thanks to a final round of hardware upgrades, said Kurt DelBene, the former Microsoft executive who took over leadership of the HealthCare.gov tech team after Jeffrey Zients left the posting to take a White House job.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently renewed a cloud-hosting agreement with Verizon Terremark for a possible seven-month period to maintain performance of HealthCare.gov as the site transitions to hosting by Hewlett-Packard. That transition was originally supposed to take place at the end of the enrollment period but has been delayed.

Traffic to the site is rising. CMS reported 1.2 million visits to HealthCare.gov on March 25 and said that visits to the Spanish-language version of the site were up 45 percent, though those traffic numbers were not released.

To accommodate the expected crush of visitors, CMS has created what DelBene calls an advanced queuing system that will manage traffic overloads. Users can choose to be notified via email when there is room in the system for them to enroll, or they can wait in a virtual waiting room for their turn to sign up.

There are significant exceptions to the March 31 deadline. Users who created an account on HealthCare.gov and attest that they unable to complete enrollment because of technical problems or lack of access to the site will be permitted to complete applications after the deadline with coverage retroactive to April 1. There are additional categories of exceptions for a death in the family and other personal issues.

Enrollees who check a box on the website attesting to qualifying for an exception will have until mid-April to complete their applications. There does not appear to be a mechanism for evaluating the truth or falsity of such claims; applicants are essentially on their honor.

Beginning April 1, visitors to HealthCare.gov will see new information about the end of the open-enrollment period, according to a CMS spokesperson.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is a staff writer covering Congress, the FCC and other key agencies. Connect with him on Twitter: @thisismaz.

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