White House Privately Asks For Gradual Return To HealthCare.gov

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The Obama administration is quietly asking health care advocacy groups not to send a flood of consumers to HealthCare.gov next week, pushing instead for a more phased approach that won’t overwhelm the website that the administration has pledged would be fully functional by Dec. 1.

The message is being communicated in private meetings, including one held Monday, a senior administration official told TPM. Groups like Enroll America and Planned Parenthood, which are among the leading organizations that are helping people sign up for coverage under Obamacare, are some of those to be targeted.

“We want to make sure that those who are reaching consumers at scale know that this isn’t like you flip the switch and everyone can come back on the first day,” the official said.

The plan would serve two purposes. First, it would lighten the load on HealthCare.gov next week, the first after the administration’s self-imposed Dec. 1 deadline to get it fully functioning. Limiting the number of people who are coming to the site should help prevent any embarrassing outages. And second, preventing outages would ensure that people who are returning to the site after being frustrated by its early problems will have a better experience.

Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the site’s operations, told reporters Monday that the website’s capacity would be doubled from 25,000 users at a time to 50,000 by next week. At that level, the site will be able to handle the load and perform well, she said. But above that level, there will presumably be a higher risk of crashes.

The fear of too much traffic is real for the White House. According to the senior administration official, the site sometimes saw as many as 250,000 people at the same time in October. Plus, the administration has very publicly pledged to have the site working by the end of November, and there is an expectation that traffic could spike as people come back following the Thanksgiving holiday after having a chance to talk about health insurance with their families. Those two factors could combine to send people in droves to the site starting Monday.

By contacting these influential enrollment groups and asking them to take a gradual approach, the administration is aiming to mitigate some of that risk. If volume is heavy, the site will be better equipped to handle it, the senior official said, with a better queueing system for users who have to wait than existed last month.

“It’s a different world from what it was before,” the official said. But avoiding any traffic problems would be preferable after the site’s disastrous launch last month.

Though the official said the two weren’t linked, the administration has also given advocates more time to sign people up for coverage that starts on Jan. 1. CMS extended that deadline last week from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23. So if those groups do take the phased approach that the White House is requesting, they will have that extra week to enroll people without having to wait for their coverage to begin

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