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Washington - Outages affecting the Obama administration's balky health insurance website slowed much needed fixes this week, but officials said Friday they remain on track to have HealthCare.gov humming along by the end of the month.
The government says the website went down for extended periods due to a hardware failure at a support facility owned by Verizon. The federal site wasn't working during congressional testimony by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week, creating an embarrassing juxtaposition.
"We made progress and also ran into some roadblocks that slowed us down," Jeff Zients, a management consultant and former Office of Management and Budget official brought in as chief troubleshooter, told reporters. "We are on track for our end of November goal."
President Barack Obama's health overhaul law is designed to bring coverage to more than 30 million uninsured people through a mix of subsidized private plans and an expanded version of Medicaid, the safety-net program. Online enrollments were supposed to revolutionize the way people purchase health insurance - and may yet do so. But the federal website locked up the day it went live, Oct. 1, and has been cranky since.
Documents released Thursday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee indicated only six people managed to enroll on the first day, when about 3 million tried to access the website. Citing industry officials, The Associated Press reported that night that at most only a handful of people had managed to enroll. The administration says such numbers are unofficial, and it will have an accurate tally by the middle of November. At least 700,000 have applied for coverage.
White House spokesman Jay Carney sought to lower expectations Friday, saying the figures will show the first month was slow. That was expected, he said, but the actual numbers will be even lower because of widespread problems with the website. Prior to the troubled launch, administration projections called for nearly 500,000 signups in October.
It was Zients' second briefing for the media. A week ago in his first session, he emphasized performance and functionality. This week, he also reported the creation of a team to address security issues. According to a document cited in House hearings, the federal website serving 36 states went live with only provisional security certification. That was because of incomplete testing.
"There's always been a focus on security," Zients said Friday, sidestepping specifics. Other administration officials have said the site is secure and conforms to industry standards.
The government has brought in an outside firm to manage the overall repair effort. Zients, who has been designated by Obama to deserve as director of the president's National Economic Council next year, is working his way through a "punch list" with different major headings and dozens of specific issues. Since the list has not been released, it's hard to tell how much progress is being made.
Zients said HealthCare.gov users should notice one improvement right away - about an 80 percent improvement in response time.