Obamacare Year 2: High Hopes, Huge Challenges

What the GOP Could Really Do to Obamacare This Year
Brianna Ehley

Health officials have been gearing up for round two of Obamacare – and this fall, Healthcare.gov will debut a makeover that, from what they say at least, is ready for prime time.

Federal health officials spent all summer revamping the website to make sure that last year’s tech-compromised launch doesn’t repeat itself. They’re fairly confident so far that consumers will be greeted with a faster, more reliable and user-friendly website.

Related: Obamacare Website Costs Balloon to $2 Billion

Speaking to reporters at a press briefing Thursday morning, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said the website has improved, though “it won’t be perfect.”

“The consumer experience will be better,” she said. “We’re not focusing on beating expectations – we’re focusing on results.”

She added the site had gone through a spate of tests – including “load” testing to make sure it can handle traffic surges. HHS officials say they’re now in the final stage of “end-to-end” testing, in contrast to last year, when the government tested the site just days before the actual launch.

Obama administration officials gave reporters a sneak peak of Healthcare.gov 2.0 – which has been streamlined down from 76 screens to mere 16. Officials also said it has been optimized for mobile devices for those consumers who choose to shop for coverage on smartphones. Last year, about one in five online applications were by mobile devices, says HHS.

The cost of building Healthcare.gov so far and enrolling people on the federal website is over $2.1 billion, according to a recent analysis by Bloomberg. And there are more bills to pay since developers have not finished building the site.

Related: Obamacare Website Still a Mess and Costing Millions

Consumers will be able to start browsing the site on November 9 to see which plans are offered in their areas and compare prices.

Not everyone, however, will be able to use the new version of the site. Roughly 70 percent of consumers will have access to the revamped Healthcare.gov, while 30 percent of people (who have complicated situations and are returning from last year) will still be using the older system.

Existing enrollees will be automatically re-enrolled in their current plans, unless they go to the website and update their information by December 15. HHS officials have encouraged returning enrollees to verify their current plans and financial information, as well as shop around, since there are less expensive plans being offered this year in some parts of the country.

Though the front end of the website is ready, officials said the back end of the system won’t be fully operational until next year; they’re still building the functionality that communicates with the IRS. There was also one glitch that’s currently being fixed – dealing with a mistranslation on the home page of the Spanish language version of the site. (Last year, CuidadoDeSalud.Gov struggled with translation issues, though officials say the issues have been resolved.)

Related: How Obamacare Rates with Consumers One Year Later

Still, the website has been flagged by federal auditors for potential security issues. Last month, the Government Accountability Office said “until it addresses shortcomings in both the technical security controls and information security program, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is exposing HealthCare.gov-related data and its supporting systems to significant risks.”

A separate report from the HHS inspector general said the system’s defense system has the ability to block any cyber attacks.

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: