It's time to try again, government says

Three things you need to know

Published: December 01, 2013 05:15 PM

Today was the government’s self-imposed deadline to get its famously messed-up health insurance portal,, working for “the vast majority of users.” In a morning press call, Jeffrey Zients, who’s been overseeing the crash repair effort, declared success.

“The site is now stable and operating at its intended capacity” of 50,000 users at a time and a minimum of 800,000 users a day, Zients said.

Back in mid-October, we said applicants should stay off the site for at least a month to give the government time to make repairs. The round-the-clock rescue effort seems to have work, Zients said. The site’s per-page error rate has plummeted from 6 percent to under 1 percent, and the average page-load time has dropped from a glacial 8 seconds to under a second, according to a progress report issued Sunday morning.

And the system is more stable. Back in October, it was only up and running around 43 percent of the time, compared to 95 percent now. In October the typical outage lasted several hours; now, with a new real-time monitoring system in place, outages are fixed in less than an hour, Zients said.

There’s still work to be done on the “back end” of the site, which transmits enrollment and subsidy data to insurers, Zients said. But that’s beyond the purview or control of consumers, and time’s of the essence. If you want to have insurance in place by Jan. 1, you need to enroll by Dec. 23.

So, time to return and take your chances with Here’s what you need to know if you’ve been avoiding the site completely, or tried and gave up back in October or early November.

1. Registration now works. “The team has re-architected the design of the registration and quadrupled its throughput,” Zients said. “In effect, we’ve widened the system’s on-ramp.” If you couldn’t register before, try again, preferably with a new user name and password. Software glitches that prevented customers from completing identity verification or recovering forgotten logins and passwords were fixed over the weekend and affected visitors should be getting emails with follow-up instructions, said Julie Bataille, a government spokeswoman.

2. Having documents at hand will speed the process. To complete an application, you’ll need information on your current insurance plan, your most recent tax return, or other financial information if you haven’t filed a return in the past. Bataille said that 80 percent of consumers who start an application prepared with this information can finish the job, compared to 30 percent in the bad old days.

3.  If you have to wait, you’ll get a special pass to come back in. Zients said that at times there may be more visitors online than the site can handle. has created a new queueing system when this happens. You’ll be offered the opportunity to receive an email with information on when to come back, and a special link that will allow you to cut to the front of the line when you do.

Got a question for our health insurance expert? Ask it here; be sure to include the state you live in. And if you can't get enough health insurance news here, follow me on Twitter @NancyMetcalf.

Health reform countdown: We are doing an article a day on the new health care law until Jan. 1, 2014, when it takes full effect. (Read the previous posts in the series.) To get health insurance advice tailored to your situation, use our Health Law Helper, below.

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