Zients: HealthCare.gov much improved, but still in progress

The site can now accommodate 50,000 simultaneous users, and a "virtual waiting room" has been established for times when demand exceeds capacity.

Jeffrey Zients

Jeff Zients, shown here in a file photo, announced on Dec. 1 that HealthCare.gov is "night and day" improved since its Oct. 1 launch.

Jeff Zients, the management specialist and former top government official tapped to oversee repairs to HealthCare.gov, announced Dec. 1 that the "tech surge" had met its goal of making the site function smoothly for the vast majority of users.

According to Zients, the system is now operating according to its original specifications. Software fixes and hardware upgrades allow the site to accommodate 50,000 simultaneous users, which would allow about 800,000 users to access the site for half-hour sessions during peak periods of use, Zients told reporters on a press call announcing the improvements. However, there were early indications that the retuned HealthCare.gov wasn’t able to deliver optimal service at peak user volume.

"HealthCare.gov on Dec. 1 is night and day from where it was on Oct. 1," when the site launched, Zients said.

The performance of HealthCare.gov is a matter of increasing urgency for the administration because applicants only have until Dec. 23 to complete enrollment to be guaranteed coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2014. Many customers on the individual insurance market are required to enter the new health insurance exchanges because their old policies are being canceled. If these people can't sign up by the deadline, they face not only the prospect of being without health insurance, but also the possibility of having to pay a penalty to the IRS for not being covered.

Since being tasked with leading a tech surge to repair the troubled website, Zients instituted a new management structure that established vendor Quality Software Systems Inc. (QSSI) as general contractor and integrator – a role formerly played by senior IT executives at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

President Barack Obama had set Nov. 30 as a deadline for having the system up and running for the vast majority of users. At the same time, the administration downplayed the deadline. CMS was careful not to characterize the event as a relaunch of HealthCare.gov. "It's not a magic moment, but a process of continual improvement over time" said CMS spokesperson Julie Bataille.

Even so, there was no shortage of activity in the days leading up to the deadline, with more than 50 fixes being implemented on Nov. 30, when the site was down for scheduled maintenance. These last-minute changes mostly focused on the back end, which transmits enrollment information to insurance carriers. The sending of enrollment forms, called 834s, has bedeviled carriers because of faulty or garbled data.

The surge so far has included more than 400 software bug fixes, a re-architected registration database that can accommodate more users, and the addition of 12 dedicated servers to the core database that allows consumers to compare, select and purchase plans. The overall system firewall has been reconfigured to increase throughput by a factor of five. Additionally, there is 24-hour system monitoring in place to detect glitches and performance problems.

System uptime has improved, with the site available more than 90 percent of the time, compared to just over 40 percent uptime when HealthCare.gov launched Oct. 1. The user error rates are down to below one percent, meaning that a user is far less likely to encounter crashes, error messages or other failures when creating accounts, updating information or moving from page to page on the site, according to the progress report delivered by Zients.

Developers have also created a new virtual waiting room for times when demand for the site exceeds its capacity. Users will have the option of being informed via email about optimal times to return to the site, and will receive a special link that takes them to the front of the queue. CMS deployed the feature on Dec. 2, when an estimated 35,000 users were on the site. It's not exactly clear why the queuing system was used with fewer than 50,000 simultaneous users. According to Bataille, the decision to queue users was made in real-time based on reports of declining response times and rising error rates. Bataille also said that HealthCare.gov attracted about 375,000 users between midnight and noon on Dec. 2, about twice the volume of a typical weekday morning.

The overall project management approach has been reconfigured using agile development methodology. There are twice-daily standup meetings to prioritize and assign fixes, and a permanent open-voice connection from a command center staffed by managers and IT developers making fixes.

Zients is set to take up the post of chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors in January. He offered no insight into how his role as point person on HealthCare.gov would be filled once he assumes his new duties, saying only that he had his "head down" on the job in front of him.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.