Obamacare Website Not Ready for Prime Time

As I'm sure you know, today is the day that all America has been waiting for: the day that the Obamacare website -- HealthCare.gov -- is supposed to work for the "vast majority" of users.

How's that coming, guys?


A crucial weekend for the troubled website that is the backbone of President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul appears to be off to a shaky start, as the U.S. government took the HealthCare.gov site offline for an unusually long maintenance period into Saturday morning.

Just hours before the Obama administration's self-imposed deadline to get the insurance shopping website working for the "vast majority" of its users by Saturday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it was taking down the website for an 11-hour period that would end at 8 a.m. EST on Saturday.

It was unclear whether the extended shutdown of the website - about seven hours longer than on typical day - represented a major setback to the Obama administration's high-stakes scramble to fix the portal that it hopes eventually will enroll about 7 million uninsured and under-insured Americans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

At the very least, the shutdown suggested that nine weeks after the website's disastrous launch on October 1 prevented most applicants from enrolling in coverage and ignited one of the biggest crises of Obama's administration, U.S. officials are nervous over whether Americans will see enough progress in the website to be satisfied.

For the administration and its Democratic allies, the stakes are enormous.

How's this for supreme irony? The White House is eager to get people signed up for Obamacare through the website -- but not that eager. They are actually urging people not to visit the site today so that it doesn't crash due to the crush of users.

It's fascinating to see how the administration has moved the goalposts on progress for the site:

Officials, over the past few weeks, have steadily lowered expectations for that Nov. 30 deadline. First, they said it would be fixed. Then they said it would be significantly improved. On Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the site is "on track" to give a "significantly different user experience" by this weekend.

The comments reflect concern that traffic could once again overwhelm the site, despite improvements made since the Oct. 1 launch.

Does it sound like the administration is going to achieve its goals?

According to Jeff Zients, a former administration official brought in to lead efforts to fix the website, success would mean that 800,000 people can successfully visit HealthCare.gov each day, with up to 50,000 of them online at the same time.

He told reporters at a White House briefing on Tuesday that teams working 24/7 still were making improvements intended to boost capacity to handle an expected surge in visitors with the end of November deadline.

"What we are comfortable with is that the 800,000 consumer visits a day will handle the demand across the coming months," Zients said.

It better. Republicans already are declaring the website and the sweeping health law a failure.

While the website exposed a serious flaw in executing the program and was a political embarrassment, Obama's poll numbers have slid sharply over individual policy cancellations that disproved his repeated refrain when selling the program publicly that people could keep their coverage if they preferred.