improvements "night and day" from October launch

With the end-of-November deadline to fix Obamacare website come and gone, the Obama administration is touting “dramatic progress” in improving the consumer experience on the troubled health insurance portal, which had been plagued by bugs and glitches since its October 1 debut.

“The bottom line: on December 1st is night and day from where it was on October 1st,” said Jeffrey Zients, a former corporate executive who was appointed by President Obama to lead  the repairs to the website. “The site is now stable and operating at intended capacity with greatly improved performance.”

And while administration officials are scrupulously avoiding an overt declaration of “mission accomplished,” a progress report released Sunday by the Department of Health and Human Services nonetheless detailed substantial improvement, providing something of a sigh of relief to the law’s anxious proponents.

“As the metrics detailed in this report reveal, dramatic progress has been made on improving,” the report said. “While we strive to innovate and improve our outreach and systems for reaching consumers, we believe we have met the goal of having a system that will work smoothly for the vast majority of users.”

The report offered a specific breakdown of improvements enacted, including more than 400 software fixes, improved response time for users, decreased error rates, and expanded capacity to handle a heavy amount of web traffic. Administration officials indicated the work represents a completion of their prioritized “punch list” of fixes needed to make the site workable for the majority of users.

The site has been stable more than 90 percent of the time since mid-November, a vast improvement from the beginning of the month, when it was only regularly functioning 43 percent of the time.

The response time for users browsing the site, which was roughly eight seconds in late October, has been greatly reduced, with a daily average of under one second over the last three weeks. Error rates, or the frequency with which web pages timed out or failed, were over 6 percent in October but have now been under 1 percent for several weeks. And the site’s expanded capacity can now handle what the report described as “intended volumes,” supporting 50,000 concurrent users on the website and more than 800,000 consumer visits per day.

 Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), indicated that the administration had met its goal that 80 percent of users would be able to enroll in insurance coverage through the website. Previously, just 30 percent were able to successfully sign up, she said.

The report also touted an overhaul in the website’s management, noting that CMS appointed QSSI as the “General Contractor and Systems Integrator,” effectively deputizing the contractor as the unifying force in spearheading repairs.

“With one central command structure and 'War Room' meetings of all key parties held twice a day for real-time, data-based decision making, the team has been able to implement high-performance management practices and drive through a priority set of fixes,” the report said.

Zients, who hails from the private sector, said the administration pushed the contractors working on the web site to operate “with the speed and urgency of a high-performing tech company.”