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US health care website meets Dec. 1 target: officials

Two months after the disastrous launch of a website that is a key component of President Barack Obama's health care law, administration officials said on Sunday they had met their goal of getting the HealthCare.gov site running smoothly but warned that it needs more fixes.

Obama adviser Jeffrey Zients said a five-week emergency “tech surge” had doubled the capacity of the online health insurance portal that is crucial to helping millions of people shop for insurance plans, while making it more responsive and less prone to errors.

The administration said the effort's key improvement was to increase HealthCare.gov's capacity to 50,000 simultaneous users, which would allow the site to handle at least 800,000 users per day.

But Zients also warned that peak traffic volumes during the coming weeks could eclipse the new capacity as consumers rush to sign up before a Dec. 23 deadline for coverage that begins Jan. 1. That could delay some people from completing online applications for subsidized health coverage.

Officials also acknowledged that the site may not operate smoothly for some visitors when traffic volumes are within its capabilities and said they were scrambling to repair and install functions at the crucial “back end” of the system that are needed to finalize enrollments with insurers.

Even so, officials said, the site is dramatically better than when it was launched on Oct. 1. It was overwhelmed by users in a debacle that embarrassed Obama, fueled Republicans' complaints about the Democratic president's health care overhaul, and threatened to make his signature domestic achievement a drag on Democrats heading into the 2014 elections, when control of Congress will be up for grabs.

“The bottom line: HealthCare.gov on Dec. 1 is night and day from where it was on Oct. 1,” Zients told reporters a day after the administration's self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline for making the website operate properly for the “vast majority” of users.

“We've widened the system's on-ramp — it now has four lanes instead of one or two,” he said. “We have a much more stable system that is reliably open for business.”

Striking a Balance

The Zients team's success could mark a more upbeat chapter for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which was designed to help provide coverage to millions of uninsured and under-insured Americans.

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