(WASHINGTON) -- How would you grade the rollout of HealthCare.gov?
On Wednesday, none of the top four Obama administration officials most closely connected to the troubled insurance portal would answer that question, declining to make any critical evaluation in their testimony before a politically-charged House Oversight Committee. None even dared to call it “incomplete.”
“That's an interesting question,” said U.S. chief technology officer Todd Park. “In terms of the rollout of the website, you know, it's obviously been really, really rocky. I'd kind of hesitate to assign a letter grade to it, but it's what nobody wanted.”
“I agree with Todd,” added Henry Chao, the deputy chief information officer at CMS. “It's highly subjective.”
Meanwhile, Park said the website is currently operating at half capacity, capable of “comfortably handling at present about 20,000 to 25,000 concurrent users.” CMS had designed the system to accommodate 50,000 to 60,000 concurrent users. On the first day of the website’s launch, officials said it was hit with more than 250,000 simultaneous users.
As the website continues to sputter, the answers prompted venting from frustrated members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
“We sent over half a billion of taxpayer money and no one who's responsible for the rollout is willing to say that we should have done things differently?” said Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn.
There were no apologies from Chao, Park, U.S. chief information officer Steve VanRoekel or deputy HHS secretary for IT Frank Baitman. None gave analysis about what could have been done differently. And none of the panelists offered assurances that the team would meet its Nov. 30 deadline to have it “optimally functional” for the “vast majority” of users.
“When will it be operational? When will it be as good as it can get?” asked Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
“I think the honest answer is that there's a team of incredibly dedicated public servants that are working hard…to have the site functioning by the end of this month smoothly for the vast majority of Americans,” said Park. “That's the goal that we're working for.”
CMS says the problem of creating and registering accounts has “actually largely been solved” and that the system is capable of processing “about 17,000 registrations” per hour. Park also added that system responsiveness and error rates are improving.
“The average system response time, which is the time it takes, say, a page to render or a request to be fulfilled of a user was 8 seconds on average a few weeks ago; it's now under a second,” he said. “Another measure is the system error rate, which is the rate at which you experience errors in the marketplace application, and that was over 6 percent a few weeks ago. And now it's actually about 1 percent, and actually getting lower than that.”
Administration officials have been hinting that their measure on Nov. 30 of what is “working smoothly for the vast majority” of Americans will be response time and error rate. But those metrics do not cover other important factors in the system that allow users to complete applications, make payments and actually enroll in insurance plans.
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