Uproar continues over health care website

Since the launch of the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," United States citizens have been treated to a roller coaster ride of the country's health reform. Perhaps the most outstanding issue with the ACA is its website, healthcare.gov, which lists dates and deadlines and takes shoppers through the process of acquiring a health plan. The site has been reported by multiple news sources to crash often during the final stages of the application process.

"The number of people who have visited the site has been overwhelming, which has aggravated these underlying problems," said President Barack Obama in his address about the website's glitches on Oct. 21.

Several reports blame the dysfunction of the website on its inability to sustain itself under heavy traffic. During the first days of its launch, the website had as many as 250,000 users, which in turn overpopulated the website and led to the many glitches it has encountered.

In an interview with USA Today, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park said the website was expected to receive between 50,000 to 60,000 visitors at once, a mere fraction of what it drew once launched.

He said the website's projected traffic was based upon that of medicare.gov, which has brought in totals of 30,000 users at a time.

With other reports restating the same issues, and other bloggers attempting to analyze for themselves, Park's comments shed more specific light onto what the cause may be.

In the article, Park said that the website's functionality will improve once the traffic is controlled.

"These bugs were functions of volume," he said. "Take away the volume, and it works."

Obama and his administration have set a Nov. 30 deadline, in which they say healthcare.gov should function properly for most users. Still, doubts remain as health officials fear it may take longer, creating more complex problems.

A much more recent worry for the health care marketplace's website is its 834 transaction form, according to a recent NPR article.

According to the California Department of Health Care Services, the form is the basic enrollment form for the marketplace which provides insurers with all information needed of an applicant.

Bob Laszewski, a health policy consultant, told NPR the importance of the 834 to the health care website.

He said insurance companies are having trouble with the readability of the 834s being sent in by applicants, which sometimes contain errors.

The Obama administration has been working on solutions for the glitches, but Laszewski told NPR that it may not be fast enough.

"The error rates have been falling," he said. "Healthcare.gov has been making progress, but we're not to the point yet where people can trust that high-volume enrollment can occur and we won't have serious customer service problems."

Perhaps the biggest worry on officials' minds is that the site will continue to succumb to traffic and enrollment issues well into December, the period in which the site may receive the most users before the Jan. 1 deadline.

Still, with all of the commotion, Obama maintains that the site's drawbacks should not trigger too much chaos for those looking ahead to the new year.

"Let me remind everybody that the Affordable Care Act is not just a website," Obama said in his address. "For 85 percent of Americans who already have health insurance through your employer, or Medicare, or Medicaid, you don't need to sign up for coverage through a website at all. You've already got coverage."

He said that the ACA simply provides new benefits for those already insured, such as staying on a parent's plan until age 26 or being covered for pre-existing conditions, which were not available before the ACA.

Workshops on how to enroll in a health care plan have been offered at Santa Monica College. One date remains for 2013, scheduled on Dec. 5 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. inside SMC’s Math Complex, Room 6.