The improved capacity of the website is something the Obama administration is very confident and is sure that the user will not face the technical glitches that followed the launch on 1st October 2013.
"We really wanted to spend the year focused on how to make it work better for consumers who were coming toHealthCare.gov, and we put through a series of upgrades over the summer," said Andy Slavitt, principal deputy administrator at CMS.
President Barack Obama himself affirmed that HealthCare.gov would work without any problems. "We're really making sure the website works super-well before the next open enrollment period. We're double- and triple-checking it," the president said during a press conference Wednesday. "There are a number of people who, the first time around, sat on the sidelines, in part because of our screw-ups on HealthCare.gov," he added.
More than 7 million customers could make changes on their health plans and as millions were expected to buy coverage could all be accommodated. HealthCare.gov would be serving people in more than 30 states as 13 states had their own exchanges.
Since the last time, the website has been organized and has a team responsible for managing it with daily progress checks for tasks that need to be completed and checked. The administration also appointed new people to improve the website experience and the CMS team and contractors who first designed the site were retained and worked through summer to make improvements. This team has hundreds of working hands.
Slavitt himself helped lead the HealthCare.gov rescue effort last year in his capacity as an executive at a subsidiary of the insurance company UnitedHealth Group, which was one of the government contractors working on the project. He officially joined the administration in June.
"It's been an incredibly busy summer," he said. According to him before the second enrollment it was important to improve consumer experience with the system working in an efficient and reliable way along with the capacity to handle large numbers with proper security measures in place. They had worked on the original system by upgrading it and at times replacing parts of it.
The HealthCare.gov team streamlined the application process for about 70 percent of users, reducing the application's length 16 pages from the original 76 pages. Existing customers who return to the website to make changes to their coverage also won't have to re-enter their personal information because about 90 percent of it will be stored in the system, Slavitt said.
The mobile version of HealthCare.gov also has been enhanced. An estimated 20 percent of applications during the inaugural enrollment period were filled out using mobile devices like smart phones and tablets, according to CMS.
Slavitt also said that one of the troublesome features of HealthCare.gov, a "virtual waiting room" where users got stuck when the website wasn't working, had been improved. Previously, if one component of the system was malfunctioning, no new users could begin any part of the application process and were instead forced to wait. Now, the system could keep different functions separate, so only visitors trying to use the balky part of the website would have to wait, while others could continue to access the rest of it.
The first time round, HealthCare.gov was not tested adequately to reveal its faults, for the second enrollment, it has been tested in phases for the past month. Slavitt is optimistic about positive results.
"We hit all our dates and milestones. That doesn't mean we won't find bugs here and there, even after four rounds of testing, because that's how software works," he said.
Even as the second enrollment period is set to begin, HealthCare.gov remains a work in progress, and Slavitt predicted that more tinkering will likely be needed.
"Are we all the way there? I think in year three, we'll have a list of things we will be able to do based upon what happened in year two that will make it even better," he said.
Jeffrey Young, Sam Stein, November 2014
Hannah Punitha (IRDA Licence Number: 2710062)