WASHINGTON — A year after the calamitous launch of Obamacare's online portal, three new officials who weren't with HHS when HealthCare.gov went live sat with reporters Wednesday at the department's brutalist headquarters.
Their message: HealthCare.gov is now a thoroughly modern website (reporters were urged to note the new fonts) from top to bottom, ready to offer the thoroughly modern health care enrollment process the administration also promised last year but failed to deliver.
There is a caveat. The top HHS officials declined to directly answer questions about how confident they are the revamped version of HealthCare.gov will be able to handle a fully-loaded enrollment day, saying the the site is still under testing. The testing regimen is much more rigorous than last time, they said.
Andy Slavitt, principal deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — the wing of the sprawling department responsible for HealthCare.gov — Kevin Counihan, CEO of the government health care marketplace and Lori Lodes, the CMS director of communications, walked reporters through the extensively retooled Obamacare website at the briefing.
All three officials have been at HHS for only a matter of months, and they stood as a new face for HealthCare.gov.
The site has been redesigned to improve efficiency, eliminating systems that required users to enter the same information several times, as well as a back-end system that caused the site to communicate with a sever multiple times during the enrollment process, which the officials said led to some of the infamous delays that came to symbolize HealthCare.gov the last time around. The site is now optimized for mobile, and the enrollment process for users with the simplest enrollment process — which the administration has said in the past is the vast majority — is down from 76 separate webpages pages to more like 16. The backend has been improved, too.
A robust testing program is now in its second day. The new version of the site has been live-tested since July for use by some enrollees signing up under special enrollment periods that exist outside the annual open enrollment, which begins this year on Nov. 15. More people are being added to health care call centers in case there are problems when open enrollment opens up.
Everything about the new version of the site is meant to convey modernity and efficiency, the officials said, down to the smallest details.
"Look at the fonts and the layout. It's very clean," Counihan said. "It's very accessible, it's not intimidating...it's a much easier and more satisfying user experience."
HHS intends to keep reporters in the loop this time, keeping them up to date on the site's progress with a number of press briefings. The next one is scheduled to tackle re-enrollment, a new problem that the CMS team has been designing systems to handle.
Will the new emphasis on transparency, efficiency, user experience, backend and testing mean a smooth enrollment next month? After the administration was burned badly for making promises that buying health care would be like shopping on Amazon, it's not ready to make a prediction about how well things will go this time.
"Give us time to finish end-to-end testing," Slavitt said when asked by BuzzFeed News about how confident he was there won't be another debacle at HealthCare.gov. "I want people to try to break the system and then we'll try to build out from there."