HHS: "˜We Have Met the Goal' for Obamacare Website

The Obamacare website is much improved, the administration declared Sunday.

Mercy Cabrera, an insurance agent with Sunshine Life and Health Advisors, speaks on the phone as she helps a person with information about an insurance policy under the Affordable Care Act at the store setup in the Westland Mall on November 14, 2013 in Hialeah, Florida. (National Journal)

The Obama administration declared success Sunday in its quest to fix the troubled Obamacare enrollment website "for the vast majority of users."

Officials from the Health and Human Services Department said HealthCare.gov has met key performance metrics, and that "in the zone of 80 percent" of users can make their way through the site successfully. The unusual Sunday morning press call provided the administration's update on President Obama's pledge to fix most of the problems plaguing the troubled federal health-insurance exchange by the end of November.

"In effect we've widened the system's on-ramp," said Jeff Zients, the former White House budget director leading the HealthCare.gov repair effort.

The administration gave few details, however, about one of the biggest issues facing the site — inaccurate and incomplete information submitted to insurance companies. Fixing those errors is essential to a smooth and functional enrollment process, and HHS said it has prioritized more visible flaws in the consumer experience while waiting to see how bad the site's back-end problems really are.

"Until the enrollment process is working from end-to-end, many consumers will not be able to enroll in coverage. In addition to fixing the technical problems with HealthCare.gov, the significant 'back-end' issues must also be resolved to ensure that coverage can begin on January 1, 2014," said Karen Ignagni, the CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans.

Zients said Sunday that the site can handle 50,000 users at once — a key metric for measuring its success, and the traffic load the site was supposed to be able to handle when it first launched on Oct. 1.

"HealthCare.gov, on December 1, is night and day from where it was on October 1," Zients said.

When the site launched in October, it was down more often than it was up, HHS said in a report Sunday. It was down an estimated 63 percent of the time for the first weeks of October — and is now available more than 90 percent of the time, according to HHS.

That's significant progress, but a website that is online more often than not is also a rather basic expectation. Zients acknowledged that there is still work to do on the site, and that traffic will at times exceed the 50,000 users the site is now able to handle.

Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the administration is not yet ready to unleash the biggest components of its promotional blitz for Affordable Care Act enrollment. The focus now is on reconnecting with users who tried to use the site during its failed launch, urging them to give enrollment another shot.

The administration won't reach out to new consumers just yet, Bataille 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," CMS' report on the site said.